The Martian Al Amal probe has already been encapsulated and is safely interconnected at the top of the Japanese H-IIA rocket, the launch vector that should carry it into space and set it on its way to Mars in just five days. The scientific head of the project, engineer Maryam Rashid Al Shamsi, has confirmed that once the probe begins its mission to explore the Martian atmosphere, the data obtained will be compiled by the Emirates' Scientific Data Centre and will be available to the international scientific community, "to help them understand the climate and the reasons why the Red Planet has lost part of its atmosphere".
Designed, developed and manufactured in the United States with the collaboration of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, the Al Amal spacecraft - which in Arabic means "Hope" - is equipped with three instruments: a multi-band EXI camera, which will capture high-resolution images; an EMUS ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; and an EMIRS interferometric thermal infrared spectrometer.
The countdown will begin 16 hours before take-off, scheduled for Wednesday, July 15, at 05:51:27 a.m. Tokyo time, when it will be 22:51:27, Spanish peninsular time. However, the meteorologists will confirm next Sunday whether or not the forecasts for the absence of strong winds and atmospheric conditions are optimal for the launch. With a take-off weight of 1.5 tons and 2.9 metres long and 2.37 metres wide, it will be placed in an elliptical orbit around Mars between 22,000 and 44,000 kilometres high, where it will remain until 2023 sending up to 1 Terabit of data to Earth.
The first interplanetary spacecraft from an Arab nation, Al Amal will depart from the Tanegashima Space Center - in southwestern Japan - on an H-IIA launcher, which has already flown in space 41 times since 2001 and has only had one failure, offering a reliability rate of 97.5%. It was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), a subsidiary of the famous Mitsubishi industrial corporation specializing in aerospace products.
During the acceleration phase following the critical initial moments of take-off, the rocket's thrusters will propel it to a speed of 34,082 km/h - more than 27 times the speed of sound -, enough to take the Emirates' spacecraft out of the Earth's atmosphere in a few minutes. From that moment on, and for nearly 200 days, it will travel 495 million kilometres to reach Mars.
Emirati engineers have supervised the operations carried out by the Japanese technicians, who have left the probe fixed on an adapter inside the launcher and protected it with thermal blankets to protect it from the extreme temperatures and pressures produced during take-off. Before fully charging the probe's batteries and integrating it into the H-IIA, the technicians from the United Arab Emirates, led by Suhail AlDhafri, had completed all the final tests and checks, in particular the detailed revision of the software, solar panels, communication equipment and scientific instruments on board.
Under the supervision of the project leader, Omran Sharaf, they have paid particular attention to checking the good condition and operation of the star sensors travelling on the probe. This equipment is key for Al Amal to determine its correct relative position in space and adjust its trajectory towards the Red Planet.
Before integration into the rocket, Japanese technicians completed the filling of the probe's tanks with 700 kilos of hydrazine, a highly toxic and flammable fuel that requires continuous checking for leaks. This amount has been considered sufficient for Al Amal to travel for seven months through space and maintain its orbit around the Red Planet.
The Director General of the Emirates Space Agency, Mohamed Nasser Al-Ahbabi, has stressed that his country is fully involved in the exploration of the cosmos because "it is important for the sustainability of our land, it serves as a bridge to the future and provides inspiration to the younger generation to be attracted to science, technology, engineering and mathematics".
The launch window starting on July 15 will be extended until August 13. Mission analysts have calculated that if launch occurs on any day during this period, the probe will reach Mars orbit "in the shortest possible time and with the least amount of fuel consumed.
With the probe already inside the carrier rocket, all responsibility for the work and verifications up to the moment of lift-off is carried out by the technicians of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, who follow detailed verification procedures for all the subsystems on board, including command and control, telemetry, propulsion and thermal control.
If lift-off occurs between 15 July and 13 August, the Martian spacecraft will enter Mars orbit in February 2021, at which time the country's authorities will kick off celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.