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United Arab Emirates spacecraft Amal — Arabic for hope — closes in on Mars during historic mission

Orbiter and lander from China set to arrive Wednesday, followed by NASA’s Perseverance rover next week

A United Arab Emirates spacecraft was scheduled to orbit around Mars on the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission on Tuesday, which is expected to be followed by two more robotic explorers scheduled to reach the Red Planet this month.

The orbiter – called Amal, which means hope in Arabic – traveled 480 million kilometers in almost seven months to reach Mars. The objective is to map the planet’s atmosphere throughout each season.

A combination of China’s orbiter and landing module is right behind, scheduled to arrive on Mars on Wednesday. It will circle the planet until the rover separates and try to land on the surface in May to look for signs of ancient life.

A U.S. rover called Perseverance is expected to join the crowd next week, with the goal of landing on February 18. It will be the first stage of a decade-long US-Europe project to bring rocks from Mars back to Earth for examination. evidence that the planet once harbored microscopic life.

About 60 percent of all Mars missions ended in failure – colliding, burning or falling short – in testimony to the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet.

If it succeeds, China will become only the second country to land successfully on Mars. The United States has done this eight times since its first landing, almost 45 years ago. A NASA rover and landing module are still working on the surface.

First for United Arab Emirates

This is the UAE’s first adventure beyond Earth’s orbit, making flight a source of intense national pride.

For days, landmarks across the U.S., including Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, glowed red to mark Amal’s planned arrival. This year is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the country, giving even more attention to Amal.

The celestial weather station was aiming for an exceptionally high Martian orbit of 13,670 miles by 27,340 miles (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers). It was set to join six spacecraft that already operate around Mars: three American, two European and one Indian.

Amal, a spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates was set to swing into orbit around Mars in the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission Tuesday. In this photo, a representation of Amal, which is Arabic for Hope, is seen at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, U.A.E., July 19, 2020. (Ahmed Jadallah/REUTERS)

Amal was expected to perform a series of intricate, high-risk turns and engine drives to maneuver in orbit and achieve what had escaped so many before.

“Anything that goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, state minister for advanced technology and president of the United States space agency.

A success would be a tremendous boost to America’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut shot into space in 2019, hitching a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) with the Russians. That was 58 years after the Soviet Union and the United States launched astronauts.

Engineers, scientists worked with U.S. researchers

In the development of Amal, the Emirates chose to collaborate with more experienced partners, instead of going it alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and scientists worked with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley and Arizona State University.

People watch a big screen displaying the launch of the Amal orbiter from Tanegashima Island in Japan, at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, U.A.E., July 20, 2020. The car-size Amal cost $200 million US to build and launch; that excludes operating costs at Mars. (Ahmed Jadallah/REUTERS)

The spacecraft was assembled in Boulder, Colorado, before being sent to Japan for launch last July.

All three spacecraft en route to the Red Planet took off within a few days, taking advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars – hence their next arrival times.

The size of an Amal car cost $ 200 million to build and launch. This excludes Mars’ operating costs. Chinese and American expeditions are considerably more complicated – and expensive – because of their space vehicles. NASA’s Perseverance mission totals $ 3 billion.

U.A.E., a federation of seven sheikhs, is looking for Amal to ignite the imagination of the country’s scientists and its youth and help prepare for a future when oil runs out.

“This mission was never just about reaching Mars,” said Omran Sharaf, project manager at Amal. “Mars is just a means to a much larger goal.”

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