Japanese H-IIA rocket carrying a United Arab Emirates Mars spacecraft has been placed on the launch pad for Monday's scheduled liftoff for the Arab world's first interplanetary mission, officials said Sunday.
The Hope probe began its 7-month journey to Mars on Monday morning.
The Emirati Hope (Amal) orbiter separated from the Mitsubishi H-IIA rocket and is heading for Mars, which it is scheduled to reach in February.
A newcomer in space development, the UAE has successfully put three Earth observation satellites into orbit.
But the UAE's ambitions go well beyond that, with a goal of building a human settlement on Mars by 2117.
Around an hour after its launch, the probe deployed solar panels for its communication and other systems as it sped towards Mars at an average speed of more than 75,000mph.
The mission's project manager, Omran Sharaf, claimed the probe will offer new insights into the planets, particularly with regard to weather dynamics in its atmosphere.
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"It was great to see everything going according to schedule today".
The orbiter is expected to reach the planet by early 2021 and will use high-resolution cameras to search for a suitable landing site somewhere in the Utopia Planitia region.
The UAE government has expressed hope that the mission will help inspire scientific advancement in neighboring countries, describing it as a "message of pride, hope, and peace to the Arab region, in which we renew the golden age of Arab and Islamic discoveries". It consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover and aims to study Martian topography and geology and determine the composition of the surface material, climate and environment. Instead, it plans to orbit it for a whole Martian year, which amounts to approximately 687 days. This alignment is the ideal time for an Earth-Mars journey since it saves on time, money and fuel.
The Dh735-million (USD 200 million) project, which is the first interplanetary mission by any Arab nation, took six years by a team of 135 Emirati engineers, scientists and researchers.
This launch will be followed in the coming days by two other Mars missions by the U.S. and China, while Japan has planned a Martian moon mission for 2024.
"The highly elliptical orbit that Hope will take supports the measurements of the three instruments - the closest being 20,000 km and the farthest 43,000 km". The Rosalind Franklin rover, a joint effort by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), has been postponed to 2022 after the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic affected operations.
In Dubai the launch was met with rapturous excitement.