Japan launches first Arab space mission to Mars

Japan launches first Arab space mission to Mars

Japan launches first Arab space mission to Mars

The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary mission undertaken by an Arab nation, is one its way to the Red Planet following a successful launch in the early hours of Monday morning (South African time).

The liftoff of the Mars orbiter named Amal, or Hope, from Japan marked the start of a rush to fly to Earth's neighbour that includes attempts by China and the United States. The timing of the missions has been coordinated to coincide with the period where Earth and Mars are nearest.

Hope carries three instruments: a camera, infrared spectrometer and ultraviolet spectrometer.

Omran Sharaf, project director of Emirates Mars Mission, said in a Twitter video message Sunday: "The Emirates' Mars mission is a message of hope to the Arab youth".

The UAE Hope probe was launched aboard a H-IIA rocket on its way to Mars at 21:58 UTC on July 19. The US, the only country that has sent previous missions to Mars, plans its Perseverance mission on July 30.

"It's like a three-way race to Mars this year and the UAE is headed to be the first country to reach Mars before USA and China", Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, was quoted as saying by the Gulf News.

The UAE already has nine functioning satellites in Earth orbit, with plans to launch another eight in coming years. He spent over a week at the International Space Station last fall. It has also set a goal to build a human colony on Mars by 2117.

This has seen Emirati engineers from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre working with partners around the world to develop the UAE's spacecraft design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities.

Seeing the probe blasting off was "an indescribable feeling", said Sarah Al-Amiri, the UAE Mars mission's deputy project manager.

"As citizens and residents we are proud to be part of this visionary and innovative era of the UAE's growth". With the mission, UAE hopes to contribute to the study of the Martian atmosphere by mapping daily and seasonal changes of key gases that are thought to quickly escape to space. NASA's Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars since 2012.

Unlike the two other Mars ventures scheduled for this year, it will not land on the Red Planet, but instead orbit it for a whole Martian year, or 687 days. After its liftoff from Tanegashima Space Center in Southern Japan, the probe was deployed successfully into a low Earth parking orbit.

There are now eight active missions exploring Mars; some orbit the planet and some have landed on its surface.

July is set to be a busy month for Mars-bound launches.

Japan has its own Mars mission planned in 2024.

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