Since its launch from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, on a Mitsubishi MH-IIA rocket, the Hope probe has completed the launch and early operation stages, two of the six stages of its journey.
The spacecraft is approaching the end of the third and longest stage, the cruise, which saw three successful maneuvers to keep the probe on track towards its Mars destination. On February 9, 2021, the probe will entre its fourth, and most critical stage of its journey, the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI), which involves firing six Delta V thrusters to rapidly reduce the speed of the spacecraft from 121,000 km/h to 18,000 km/h to entre Mars’ orbit. The following two stages, the ‘transition to the Science Orbit’ and the ‘Science Orbit’ will see the probe carrying out its exploration mission to study the atmospheric dynamics and weather of the Red Planet.
The Hope probe has overcome several complex operations throughout its seven-month journey. During the first stage of the launch, the rocket accelerated away from Earth using its solid-fuel engines. As the rocket penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere, the fairing that protects the Hope probe was discharged.
In the second phase of the launch, the first-stage rocket was disconnected, placing the probe into earth’s orbit before the second-stage launcher pushed the probe on its trajectory towards the Red Planet at a speed in excess of 11km/s, or 39,600km/h, in an exact alignment with Mars.
The probe then moved to the following ‘early operation’ stage where an automated sequence awakened the probe. The central computer was activated and heaters were switched on to prevent the fuel from freesing. The Hope probe then deployed its solar panels and its sensors to locate the sun. It maneuvered to direct the solar panels towards the sun to begin charging the onboard battery. With the power switched on, the first signals from the Hope probe were detected by the NASA Deep Space Network ground station in Madrid.
After receiving the first successful transmission from the probe, The Emirates Mars Mission team conducted a series of safety tests for 45 days. During this phase, the team completed a series of maneuvers to refine the probe’s trajectory to Mars. The first two Trajectory Correction Maneuvers were performed on August 11, 2020 and August 28, 2020.
The probe then successfully entreed the Cruise stage, the third of its journey, through a series of routine operations. The team from the ground station maintained contact with the probe for 6-8 hours, 2-3 times a week. On November 8, 2020, the team successfully performed the third trajectory maneuver to direct the Hope probe towards Mars, setting the date of arrival to the Red Planet’s orbit to be February 9, 2021, at 7:42pm UAE timing.
Hope Probe: A Global Picture of Martian Atmosphere Once it reaches Mars’ orbit, the Hope probe will provide the first-ever complete picture of the Martian atmosphere, monitoring weather changes throughout the day during all seasons, which has not been done by any previous mission. The probe was 100% manufactured, enabling young Emirati scientists and engineers to take on a massive challenge in the new field of space.
The mission will provide deeper insights on the climatic dynamics of the Red Planet through observing the weather phenomena in Mars such as the massive famous dust storms that have been known to engulf the Red Planet, as compared to the short and localised dust storms on earth. It will focus on better understanding the link between weather changes in Mars’ lower atmosphere, with the loss of hydrogen and oxygen from the upper layers of the atmosphere. The probe, for the first time, will study the link between weather change and atmospheric loss, a process that may have caused the Red Planet’s surface corrosion and the loss of its upper atmosphere.
Exploring connections between today’s Martian weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet will give deeper insights into the past and future of Earth and the potential of life on Mars and other distant planets.
The probe will gather and send back 1,000 GB of new Mars data to the Science Data Centre in the UAE via different ground stations spread around the world. The data will be catalogued and analysed by the Emirates Mars Mission science team, and shared for free with the international Mars science community as a service to human knowledge.
The Historic Launch
After six years of relentless efforts, the defining moment of the Hope probe launch had arrived, initially scheduled on July 15, 2020.
However, unstable weather conditions at launch site in Japan’s Tanegashima Island delayed the launch twice within the 30-day launch window scheduled between July 14 and August 12, 2020. Missing the launch window would have meant delaying the entire mission for two years. After a careful weather forecast, in collaboration with the Japanese team, the Hope probe took off on July 20, 2020 at 01:58am UAE timing.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, established in 2015, was tasked with the execution and supervision of all stages of the design, development, and the launch of the Hope probe, while the UAE Space Agency funded and supervised necessary procedures for the implementation.