The United Arab Emirates Space Agency has announced plans for a new interplanetary mission to explore the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the source of most meteorites that strike the Earth. The agency hopes that the mission will help to accelerate the nation’s space engineering, scientific research and exploration capabilities, and drive innovation and opportunity in the country’s private sector.
‘We have set our eyes to the stars because our journey to development and progress has no boundaries, no borders and no limitations,’ said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president, prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, at the launch ceremony. ‘Today we are investing in the generations to come. With each new advancement we make in space, we create opportunities for young people here on Earth.’
Scheduled for launch in 2028, the mission will build on the knowledge and experience gained during the successful Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), which is currently gathering unique data on Mars’ atmospheric composition, and will involve significant participation from Emirati private sector companies.
‘This new mission tests and extends the capabilities of Emirati youth in achieving Zayed’s ambition to explore space,’ said His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces. ‘We are certain that our talented local engineers, academic and research institutions, which have so far made quantum leaps in developing our space sector, are well equipped to take on this daring new challenge.’
The spacecraft’s five-year journey, which will see it travel some 3.6 billion kilometres, will involve gravity-assisted slingshot manoeuvres around first Venus and then Earth that will provide the velocity required to reach the asteroid belt. It’s expected to make its first fly-by of a main asteroid belt object in 2030, before going on to observe a total of seven main belt asteroids before finally attempting to land on an asteroid 560 million kilometres from Earth in 2033.
The mission, which will be developed in partnership with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, brings extensive challenges that go beyond EMM in terms of spacecraft design and engineering, interplanetary navigation and complex systems integration. The precise scientific goals and instrumentation to be deployed on the mission will be announced in the middle of next year.
‘Our goal is clear: to accelerate the development of innovation and knowledge-based enterprises in the Emirates,’ said Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, minister of state for advanced sciences and chair of the UAE Space Agency. ‘This can’t be done by going steady-state – this requires leaps in imagination, in faith and the pursuit of goals that go beyond prudent or methodical. When we embarked on the Emirates Mars Mission, we took on a six-year task that was in the order of five times more complex than the Earth-observation satellites we were developing. This mission is in the order of five times more complex than EMM.’