GP Insights # 470, 14 February 2021
On 9 February 2021, the United Arab Emirates’ first interplanetary mission to Mars, called Hope, was placed into orbit around the planet. The UAE becomes the fifth spacefaring country after the US, the Soviet Union, Europe, and India. Mohammad Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, called the success a national achievement that brings pride to every Emirati and Arab, and stated, “The journey of the Hope Probe reflects the broader journey of the UAE. The challenges that faced the mission team in turning the probe from a dream to reality in six years mirrors the challenges the UAE has faced in its journey as a nation who made the impossible possible.”
What is the background?
First, Mars Missions over the decades. 49 missions have been made to Mars, since the first successful flyby in 1965. The mission types include flyby, orbiters, or rovers. Four space agencies have successfully made it to Mars: NASA, the former Soviet Union space program, the ESA and ISRO. Space programs of Japan and China, have attempted Mars or Martian moon missions without success. The successful missions of UAE and China would add to the total successful agencies to six. Currently, China’s Tianwen-1 and the US’ Perseverance Rover, are expected to reach the red planet with a 10-day gap.
Second, the UAE’s Hope Mission. Hope is UAE’s fourth space mission and first interplanetary mission. The Hope probe was launched on 19 July 2020, onboard Japan’s H-2A rocket from the Japanese space centre and has travelled for seven months and at a speed of 120,000hm/h. This week, it executed a 27-minute precise burn to manoeuvre and be captured by the Martian gravity. Hope probe has an overall mission life of one Martian year, about 687 earth days. The mission was announced in 2014 with a cost of approximately USD 200m, marking the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. The satellite carries three instruments that will study the seasonal and daily changes in the Martian atmosphere. Hope is expected to collect more than one terabyte (1,000 GB) of new data, which will be shared with over 200 academic and scientific institutions worldwide for free. The mission has been developed and managed by seven engineers who are all said to be below the age of 35.
Third, the rise of the middle powers in Outer Space. The 2020s would see the domain grow both laterally and horizontally. A high number of space agencies have planned for ambitious missions in Outer space. In 2022, Russia and the ESA have their Mars missions planned. The Hope mission’s success can be seen as a display of multi-institutional collaboration between the US, Japan and UAE. These collaborations could act as the driving force behind a significant increase in the number of nations that are developing their space programs for bigger missions but at affordable expenses.
What does it mean?
The missions to Mars in the 1960s and the 1980s were driven by the need to explore the planet. Since the confirmation of the presence of ancient water on the Martian soil in 2000, there has been a renewed interest to explore the planet. By the 1990s, the costs of outer space missions reduced, encouraging more projects to reach the red planet. The following decade is expected to see many such attempts at deep space explorations with long-term goals with crucial security implications. Having successful missions is a sign of national prestige, however, they carry the underlying political-economic interests of the nations investing in them. For example, the end goal of UAE’s mission is to establish a human colony on Mars by 2117.