After multiple delays due to unstable weather conditions, the United Arab Emirates finally launched its Mission to Mars on July 20. Hope Probe, the first undertaking to the Red Planet from the Arab world, took off from Tanegashima Island in Japan and will be making a seventh-month journey of 493,500,000km, orbiting Mars to study the atmosphere and recording daily and seasonal changes in the weather on the planet. Fast forward one week and the spacecraft has travelled 2.47 million kilometres, reported The National. A team of more than 15 Emiratis is stationed in the engineering operations room and mission operation centre in MBRSC, tracking the movement of and communicating with the space capsule.
“Right now, the spacecraft’s distance from Mars is 56,924,547 kilometres,” Deputy Manager of Missing Operations, Zakareyya Al Shamsi told the publication. “Everything is going very smoothly so far, and we are very impressed with the progress. Each time we receive telemetry from the spacecraft, we feel really happy,” he added. The mission is still in its early operation phase; hence the ground control staff is working day and night to ensure the probe is on track for Mars. Meanwhile, US space agency Nasa’s Deep Space Network is making the communication possible through antennae at Goldstone in California, Madrid in Spain and Canberra, Australia. This helps maintain 24-hour coverage as the Earth rotates.
Mohammad Al Balooshi, the flight controller, works the 12-hour-long prime shift and is in constant touch with the Deep Space Network staff. “They receive the telemetry first and send it over to us,” he mentioned. “If there is any problem, we can ask them to put us in emergency contact with the spacecraft. In the words of Al Balooshi, “Plans are discussed and approved in a daily meeting.”
Command Controller Hamad Al Hazami has a rather risky job. He is responsible for sending commands to the spacecraft, adjusting its trajectory and positioning. “In case human errors occur, we have contingency plans in place,” Al Hazami clarified. The team also ensures that the spacecraft’s two solar panels, which supply its power, are facing the Sun. But this is done with caution because intense energy from the Sun can damage Hope’s subsystems and the three main scientific instruments it carries to study the atmosphere of Mars. Monitors around ground control watch Hope, with green or red lights to indicate the spacecraft’s status. “It’s all green, so, that’s great,” stated Al Shamsi. A star tracker device is also used to plan the little craft’s position by the stars, helping Hope reach its final destination.
While everything is smooth-sailing at the moment, the mission is expected to become more complicated in the next two weeks, when it enters the cruising phase. During this time, contact with the spacecraft will take place twice a week in bursts of six or seven hours. “We are only carrying out small tests right now because we don’t want to put too much load on the spacecraft,” Al Shamsi noted. “It has a long journey, and we will be taking things step by step. Once it reaches the cruising stage, we will start with more tests,” he concluded. We wish the Hope Probe a safe return!