An artist’s impression of UAE’s Hope spacecraft in orbit around Mars. Image: UAE Space Agency
The United Arab Emirates’ Hope Mars probe, China’s Tianwen 1 spacecraft and NASA’s Perseverance rover are on the doorstep of Mars seven months after launch, all arriving within about a week of each other to open a new era in the exploration of the red planet.
UAE’s Hope orbiter is the first planetary probe launched by an Arab nation. It was on course to brake into orbit around Mars on 9 February, firing its thrusters for 27 minutes to slow down enough to slip into an elliptical “capture” orbit around the planet’s equator.
After tests and checkout, flight controllers plan to manoeuvre the spacecraft into a science orbit measuring 20,000 by 43,000 kilometres (12,400 by 26,700 miles) to give its three science instruments – a high-resolution camera and two sophisticated spectrometers – a global view of the martian atmosphere around the clock, in daylight and darkness.
Over the course of a martian year, Hope will monitor weather systems in the lower atmosphere, study how atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen escape into space and collect data on processes in the lower atmosphere that contribute to that escape.