The United Arab Emirates count until the launch of their first interplanetary space mission, which will send a spacecraft called "Hope" into orbit on Mars. The Emirates Mars mission is designed to provide a global snapshot of the weather on the Red Planet. It will also be a source of pride for the UAE when the country celebrates its 50th anniversary in December 2021.
To ensure that Hope is actually on Mars for the anniversary, the UAE must start this summer. Planetary researchers have a very small window every two years to send spaceships to Mars when the Red Planet and Earth are closely aligned in their orbits. When Hope launches in July, the spaceship will travel to Mars for the next seven months and arrive sometime in February – so it will have enough time in orbit before the anniversary.
Hope launches a Japanese H-IIA rocket
Hope launches a Japanese H-IIA rocket from the Japanese Tanegashima Space Center on an island off the country's south coast. In Tanegashima the start takes place in the early morning of July 20th at 6:58 a.m. On the east coast of the United States, the start is at 5:58 p.m. ET this afternoon.
The UAE's spaceship Hope before launch
Image: Emirates Mars Mission
About an hour after launch, the H-IIA missile will launch Hope in space and take it on its course towards Mars. The probe then stretches out its solar panels and points them towards the sun to generate electricity. The Emirates Mars Mission team operating the spaceship will also try to contact the vehicle as it tries to stabilize and then launch into space.
"This is not for the faint of heart."
About 28 days after takeoff, Hope will easily correct its course by burning its engines on board – the first of many corrective maneuvers it will make on the way to Mars. Such burns are necessary to keep Hope on the right track, hit a tiny window on Mars, and then fit into the planet's orbit. "It's a very small goal," said Pete Withnell, program manager for the mission at University of Colorado Boulder, which worked with the Emirates Mars Mission, during a pre-launch press conference. "It corresponds to an archer hitting a two millimeter target a kilometer away. So this is not for the faint of heart."
The Emirates Mars mission plans to deliver multiple live streams of the launch, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which operates the H-IIA rocket, will also deliver a live stream. Most streams start at 3:00 p.m. (CET) and provide sufficient coverage that leads to the UAE's first attempt to launch a vehicle into space.