September 28, 2023

UAE announces groundbreaking mission to asteroid belt, searching for clues to the origin of life

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates unveiled plans Monday to send a spaceship to explore the solar system’s main asteroid belt, the oil-rich country’s latest space project after it launched the successful Hope spacecraft in 2020. launched to Mars.

Dubbed the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt, the project aims to develop a spacecraft over the next few years and then launch it in 2028 to study various asteroids.

“This mission is a follow-up and follow-up to the Mars mission, where it was the first mission to Mars from the region,” said Mohsen Al Awadhi, program director of the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt. same with this mission. That is, the first-ever mission to specifically explore these seven asteroids and the first of its kind when viewed from a grand tour aspect.”

The UAE became the first Arab country and the second country ever to successfully enter Mars orbit on its first attempt when its Hope probe reached the red planet in February 2021. The craft’s goals include delivering the first complete picture of the atmosphere of Mars and its layers and help answer important questions about the planet’s climate and composition.

If successful, the newly announced spacecraft will fly at speeds of 33,000 kilometers (20,500 miles) per hour on a seven-year journey to explore six asteroids. It will culminate in the deployment of a landing craft to a seventh, rare “red” asteroid that scientists say could provide insight into the building blocks of life on Earth.

Organic compounds such as water are critical components of life and have been found on some asteroids, possibly provided by collisions with other organic-rich bodies or by the creation of complex organic molecules in space. Investigating the origin of these compounds, along with the possible presence of water on red asteroids, could shed light on the origin of water on Earth, providing valuable insights into the origins of life on our planet.

The endeavor is a major milestone for the fast-growing UAE Space Agency, which was just established in 2014, as it follows on from the success of sending the Amal, or “Hope,” probe to Mars. The new journey would span a distance more than ten times that of the Mars mission.

The explorer is named MBR after the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also serves as Vice President and Prime Minister of the hereditary-ruled UAE. It will first make its way to Venus, where the planet’s gravity will swing it back past Earth and then past Mars.

The craft will eventually reach the asteroid belt, flying as close as 150 kilometers (93 miles) to the celestial boulders and covering a total distance of 5 billion kilometers (about 3 billion miles).

In October 2034, the craft is expected to make its final thrust toward the seventh and final asteroid, named Justitia, before deploying a lander more than a year later. Justitia, believed to be one of only two known red asteroids, is believed to have a surface laden with organic matter originating from the region where the giant planets formed, or even beyond.

“It’s one of the two reddest objects in the asteroid belt and scientists don’t really understand why it’s so red,” said Hoor AlMaazmi, a space researcher at the UAE space agency. Kuiper belt and where there are many more red objects there. So that’s one thing we can study, because it also has the potential to be water rich.

The MBR Explorer will deploy a landing craft to study the surface of Justitia, which has been developed entirely by private start-ups in the UAE. It could lay the groundwork for possible future resource extraction from asteroids to eventually support extended human missions into space — and perhaps even for the UAE’s ambitious goal of building a colony on Mars by 2117.

“We’ve identified several key areas that we want private sector startups to be a part of, and we’ll engage with them that way. And we understand that the knowledge we have in the UAE, as you know, is still being built. We will provide these startups with the knowledge they need,” said Al Awadhi.

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