First Arab mission to Mars to launch in July

The first Arab space mission to Mars is ready for a mid-July start, news wires reported. Named Amal, meaning Hope, the robotic craft is due to lift off from the Japanese island of Tanegashima during a narrow launch window about 14 July. It will pass the 493 million km to the Red Planet for about seven months, and then will remain in Martian orbit for an entire Martian year, 687 days, to gather sufficient data.

Powered by a Japanese rocket, Amal will be carrying three types of sensors for measuring the complex make-up of Mars's atmosphere. These include a high-resolution multiband camera for measuring the planet's dust and ozone, an infrared spectrometer for measuring the lower atmosphere, and an ultraviolet spectrometer for measuring oxygen and hydrogen levels. 

The mission is financed and organised by the United Arab Emirates, and the programme's science lead Sarah Al-Amiri said at a briefing last Monday the project should be a major incentive for young Arab scientists to embark on a career in space engineering. The UAE already has a track record of space travel. It has sent satellites into the Earth's orbit and an astronaut to the International Space Station.  

UAE project leaders working on the mission have reminded the world that, eight centuries ago, Arab inventors and intellectuals were right at the forefront of scientific discovery. So today, the ruler of Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, is hoping this ambitious project will rekindle a sense of cultural pride and help the region to diversify away from its dependence on the oil industry. 

The Hope Probe will be the first probe to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers when it reaches the red planet's orbit in 2021. It will help answer key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of one Martian year. 

Provided it does reach Mars, Hope will arrive at the red planet in the same year that the UAE celebrates 50 years since its founding as a nation in 1971. Certainly no one could accuse the country of lacking in ambition. It has vowed to build a human settlement on Mars by the year 2117.

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