Mars is about to receive its next visitor from Earth—the Mars Hope probe. It has the makings of a historic day, as the United Arab Emirates seeks to become just the fifth country to reach the Red Planet. You can watch the action live right here.
Update 11:18 a.m. ET: The UAE Space Agency has confirmed that the Hope probe successfully entered into orbit around Mars. Let the science begin!
The insertion maneuver is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. ET (7:30 a.m. PT) and end at 10:57 a.m. ET (7:57 a.m. PT). Mission controllers will be 11 minutes behind the action, as that’s the length of time it takes radio signals to reach us from Mars. The UAE Space Agency has made four different live feeds available, one of which you can watch live right here. Coverage is expected to start at 10:00 a.m. ET (7:00 a.m. PT).
Should the orbital insertion of the Mars Hope satellite succeed, the UAE will join the United States, the Soviet Union, India, and the European Union as the only nations to reach Mars.
Launched on July 20, 2020, the Mars Hope probe, or al-Amal in Arabic, is a mission to study the Martian atmosphere. The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) is expected to last for a full Martian year, or 687 Earth days. It’s one of three missions arriving at the Red Planet this month, the others being NASA’s Perseverance rover (arriving on February 18) and China’s Tianwen-1 mission (arriving tomorrow, February 10). These missions are all converging due to an ideal launch window to Mars that opened last summer.
Today’s orbital insertion will take 27 minutes, during which time the Hope probe will use its six 120-Newton Delta V thrusters to decelerate from 75,000 miles per hour (121,000 km/h) to 11,000 mph (18,000 km/h), reports AFP. The upcoming Perseverance landing will feature seven minutes of terror, but for today’s orbital insertion, the UAE Space Agency will be experiencing 27 minutes of terror.
“We’re entering a very critical phase,” Omran Sharaf, EMM project director, told BBC News. “It’s a phase that basically defines whether we reach Mars, or not; and whether we’ll be able to conduct our science, or not.” To which he added: “If we go too slow, we crash on Mars; if we go too fast, we skip Mars.”
The satellite will be placed in a special near-equatorial configuration, in which its orbit will range from approximately 12,430 miles (20,000 km) to 26,700 miles (43,000 km) above the surface. This will allow for unprecedented observations of the Martian diurnal, or day-to-night, cycle.
Assuming the orbital insertion goes well, the Hope probe will study climate and global weather patterns on Mars, analyze both the upper and lower atmosphere, and gather data to improve our understanding of how and why gases, namely hydrogen and oxygen, are leaking into space. Ultimately, the hope of the Hope mission is to capture the most complete picture yet of the Martian atmosphere.
To that end, the 2,980-pound (1,350 kg) orbiter is equipped with three primary instruments. The infrared spectrometer will monitor the global spread of dust, ice clouds, and water vapor and take temperature readings, while the ultraviolet spectrometer will measure the amount of gases present, including the variability of oxygen and hydrogen in the uppermost atmospheric layers.
The probe’s imager will allow for high-resolution photographs and even 4K movies owing to its ability to take 12-megapixel images at 180 frames per second, according to the UAE Space Agency. The probe was developed by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), in conjunction with academic partners from the University of Colorado, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
Fingers are crossed for today’s orbital insertion. Mars has a nasty tendency to end missions before they even have a chance to begin.