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UAE Mars probe successfully enters Red Planet orbit

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An illustration shows the Emirates Mars Mission orbiter, Hope, in orbit around Mars, where it is to  analyze the Martian atmosphere. Image courtesy of Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre
An illustration shows the Emirates Mars Mission orbiter, Hope, in orbit around Mars, where it is to  analyze the Martian atmosphere. Image courtesy of Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre

Feb. 9 (UPI) -- A United Arab Emirates spacecraft, the Mars orbiter Hope, successfully entered orbit around the Red Planet about 11 a.m. EST Tuesday.

The probe is the first since NASA's Insight lander in November 2018 to reach the planet. The successful arrival at Mars makes the UAE the fifth nation to reach Mars, following the United States, Russia, China and India.

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"After all of these years, it's been achieved, today, by the UAE, and it is just an incredible moment. It's such an honor to have such a moment," Fahad Al Mheiri, an executive director with the UAE Space Agency, said during a live broadcast.

Hope (or Al Amal in Arabic) will study the Martian atmosphere for at least two years.

RELATED New era of Mars exploration begins as craft nears Red Planet

On Tuesday, the probe fired thrusters for 27 minutes to slow down and achieve its intended orbit -- burning about half of its fuel supply. Teams of scientists and space enthusiasts listened as the UAE space agency confirmed the spacecraft was healthy and in the right place.

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After the successful orbital insertion, minor corrections still may be made, said Pete Withnell, a program manager for the Hope mission at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The UAE mission also starts an unprecedented year of Mars exploration, as China's Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover is due to arrive at Mars on Wednesday, followed by NASA's Perseverance rover Feb. 18.

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All three spacecraft have advanced robotics technology because there's an 11-minute delay in communication signals between Earth and Mars.

Hope, Tianwen-1 and Perseverance were launched in July on a seven-month journey as Mars and Earth were nearing their closest approach in orbit around the Sun.

Now that Hope has reached orbit, scientists in the Emirates and elsewhere are eager to receive data about the atmosphere from the spacecraft's imaging equipment, said Sarah al Amiri, minister of advanced sciences for the UAE.

"The first reason we chose this mission was to develop the capabilities of a team of technology developers and engineers rapidly and teach them how to take on large risks," Al Amiri said.

A mission to Mars, rather than to the moon or Earth orbit, required extremely complex physics of orbital mechanics, she said.

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The UAE is eager to contribute to the global understanding of Mars, and to develop interplanetary sciences as a result of the mission, Al Amiri said.

"So there are several reasons that Mars was the sweet spot, the right destination for all of this to happen," she said.

According to Al Amiri, the UAE government had declared that the Hope mission was a success even before Tuesday, because such a team of experts was able to build the craft, launch it and get it to Mars.

"But of course, for me, I am eager to begin the science part of the mission, which is the overall goal," she said.

Over the next couple of months, instruments on the probe will be tested before routine science begins.

Hope will orbit the entire planet at different locations to gather the most comprehensive picture of Mars weather -- especially during changes of seasons. The spacecraft will build on data gathered by NASA's 2014 orbiter, MAVEN, which analyzed portions of Mars' upper atmosphere.

MAVEN determined that Mars had lost large amounts of its atmosphere over thousands of years, a phenomenon that Hope may explain further, according to NASA and the UAE Space Agency.

Such data may reveal "any indication of what the Mars atmosphere was once like, and what it will be like in the future," astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson said in a video posted to Twitter recently by the agency.

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Exploration of Mars through history

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used two different cameras to create this panoramic selfie, comprised of 60 images, in front of Mont Mercou, a rock outcrop that stands 20 feet tall on March 26, 2021, the 3,070th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. These were combined with 11 images taken by the Mastcam on the mast, or "head," of the rover on March 16. The hole visible to the left of the rover is where its robotic drill sampled a rock nicknamed "Nontron." The Curiosity team is nicknaming features in this part of Mars using names from the region around the village of Nontron in southwestern France. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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