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Sunday June 23, 2024

UAE to launch mission to asteroid belt to discover life's origins

If successful, the mission will make UAE the first Arab nation and the second nation ever to successfully enter Mars' orbit on its first attempt

By Web Desk
May 30, 2023
An illustration of Nasa’s “Perseverance” rover casting off its spacecraft’s cruise stage, minutes before entering the Martian atmosphere, photo obtained on February 15, 2021.— AFP
An illustration of Nasa’s “Perseverance” rover casting off its spacecraft’s cruise stage, minutes before entering the Martian atmosphere, photo obtained on February 15, 2021.— AFP

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) revealed its latest space project Monday to send a spaceship to explore the solar system's main asteroid belt, following the successful launch of the Hope spacecraft to Mars in 2020.

The "Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt" is a project that aims to develop a spacecraft in the coming years and then launch it in 2028 to study various asteroids, ABC News reported.

“This mission is a follow-up and a follow-on on the Mars mission, where it was the first mission to Mars from the region," said Mohsen Al Awadhi, programme director of the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt. 

"We’re creating the same thing with this mission. That is, the first mission ever to explore these seven asteroids in specific and the first of its kind when it’s looked at from the grand tour aspect," he added.

The UAE's Hope probe arrived on the red planet in February 2021, making it the first Arab nation and the second nation ever to successfully enter Mars' orbit on its first attempt.

The mission aims to provide a comprehensive view of the Martian atmosphere and its layers and assist in the resolution of important questions about its composition and climate.

If successful, the recently announced spacecraft will travel for seven years to six asteroids, reaching speeds of up to 33,000 kilometres (20,500 miles) per hour.

It will culminate in the deployment of a landing craft onto the seventh, rare “red” asteroid to investigate the origins of organic compounds on red asteroids, which could shed light on the origin of Earth's water and provide valuable insights into the genesis of life on Earth.

UAE Space Agency's new mission, which is a significant milestone for the agency, will cover 10 times more distance than their previous Mars mission.

Furthermore, the asteroid explorer is named MBR after Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The craft will travel 5 billion kilometres to reach the asteroid belt, travelling first towards Venus, where the planet’s gravitational pull will slingshot it back past the Earth and then Mars, the report said.

The craft is expected to make its final thrust to Justitia, the seventh asteroid, in October 2034.

Hoor Al Maazmi, a space science researcher at the UAE space agency, said: "It’s one of the two reddest objects in the asteroid belt, and scientists don’t really understand why it’s so red."

He added: "There are theories about it being originally from the Kuiper Belt, where there are much more red objects. So that’s one thing that we can study because it has the potential for it to be water-rich as well."

In addition, private UAE start-up companies will develop a landing craft, to be deployed by the MBR explorer, to study Justitia.

Exploring such asteroids may lead to future human missions and the fulfilment of the UAE's ambitions for Mars colonisation by 2117.

“We have identified different key areas that we want startups in the private sector to be part of, and we will engage with them through that," said Al Awadhi. 

"We understand that the knowledge we have in the UAE is, you know, still being built. We will provide these startups with the knowledge they need.”