Emirates Mars Mission satellite reaches Mars orbit

Photo of a satellite
Robert Lillis/Courtesy
The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, reached Mars’ orbit Tuesday morning. The Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley is a partner in the collaboration.

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In collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, or SSL, the Emirates Mars Mission entered the planet’s orbit Tuesday morning after being launched last summer.

The mission is the first space exploration to be launched by an Arab nation and is headed by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, or MBRSC, in the United Arab Emirates, according to a Berkeley News press release. The mission was also done in collaboration with other U.S. research institutions, such as the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and Arizona State University.

The project was announced in 2015 before the satellite was launched during the summer of 2020, according to Rob Lillis, SSL associate director of planetary science.

“Development of the science requirements, spacecraft, instruments, mission operations, launch vehicle, and data center consumed five years, passing several key milestone reviews, with an independent review board consisting of veterans of several prior deep space missions,” Lillis said in an email.

Officially coined as the Hope Probe, the satellite’s mission will last two Earth years, and it will orbit Mars to analyze and gather novel data about Martian weather and climate, according to Lillis.

John Tomsick, SSL associate director of astrophysics and exoplanets, noted the importance of studying Mars, as it helps further the understanding of what makes a planet habitable, planetary atmospheres changes over time and star and planetary evolution.

Lillis added that there is currently a “very poor” understanding of the daily atmospheric changes on Mars due to a majority of measurements from prior orbiters being fixed in local time.

“In summary, we want to explore what makes this alien atmosphere tick,” Lillis said in the email.  “This will be especially important as we prepare to send humans there in the next decade.”

The goal of the mission is to provide a complete picture of the entire Martian atmosphere. According to Lillis, the Hope Probe is unique because its orbit allows for comprehensive daily and geographic coverage, as well as providing a weather satellite style view of the planet.

Additionally, Lillis said the SSL’s involvement with the mission helps promote UC Berkeley’s two values of academic and scientific excellence as well as cultural diversity and inclusivity.

“Having the opportunity to put an instrument that you have built into space or to another planet is very rare and precious one, and the Hope Probe has been a great opportunity for Rob and his team,” Tomsick said in an email.

The mission will also play an important role in redefining scientific tradition and infrastructure, as it reinforces the progressive values promoted by the United Arab Emirates and develops these values in the region, according to Lillis.

Contact Audry Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @audryjng_dc.