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United Arab Emirates' Hope probe reaches Mars orbit


The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to send a spacecraft to Mars on Tuesday when its Hope probe reached the red planet, fired its thrusters and slowed down enough to enter orbit.

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The mission represents a victory for the country as it seeks to grow its space program. And it opens an unusually active period of deep space exploration. In addition to the UAE, China and the United States have spacecraft that are also expected to reach Mars this month.

China's Tiawen-1 is scheduled to reach Mars orbit Wednesday before a landing sometime in May. NASA's Perseverance rover is expected to touch down on Mars Feb. 18 and then explore for signs of past life.

The UAE's Hope spacecraft fired its thruster for approximately 27 minutes, slowing the spacecraft from some 75,000 mph to 11,000 mph. In mission control, members of the UAE space agency celebrated the mission, and the agency tweeted, "Success! Contact with #HopeProbe has been established again. The Mars Orbit Insertion is now complete."

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate, congratulated the UAE on Twitter, writing, "Your bold endeavor to explore the Red Planet will inspire many others to reach for the stars. We hope to join you at Mars soon with @NASAPersevere."

The Hope probe will not land on Mars but rather stay in orbit, studying the Martian atmosphere. It launched from Japan last July, flying 306 million miles to reach Mars. Given there was an 11-minute radio transmission delay to Earth, the probe had to be autonomous, relying on its own systems to insert itself into the correct orbit.

Reaching Mars orbit "was the most critical and dangerous part of our journey to Mars, exposing the Hope probe to stresses and pressures it has never before faced," said Omran Sharaf, the director of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center. "With this enormous milestone achieved, we are now preparing to transition to our science orbit and commence science data gathering."

It is a big step for the country's space agency, which is partnering on the mission with scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

"We entered into this wild experiment," Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, the chair of the UAE Space Agency and the Minister of State for Advanced Technology, said last week. "It was something completely new for us."

Published : February 10, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Christian Davenport