UAE successfully puts spacecraft in Mars orbit on first try

UAE becomes 5th country to successfully send a spacecraft to Mars

FILE - In this Wednesday, May 6, 2015 file photo, Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of a planned United Arab Emirates Mars mission talks about the project named "Hope," "Amal" in Arabic, during a ceremony in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili) (Kamran Jebreili, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The United Arab Emirates joined the small list of countries that have successfully sent a spacecraft to Mars this week as its Hope orbiter arrived Tuesday.

This is a big step for a relatively new space program and young country with big ambitions. The UAE Amal, which means Hope in Arabic, probe launched in July on a Japanese rocket. After a seven-month journey, the most critical phase, orbital insertion, happened late Tuesday morning.

Hope is designed to orbit Mars and study the Martian atmosphere using three scientific instruments on board the spacecraft. The plan for the spacecraft is to enter a high orbit between 13,500 by 27,000 miles high. From this vantage point, the spacecraft will observe the weather down on Mars.

According to the space agency, Hope will improve understanding of circulation and weather in the Martian lower and middle atmosphere.

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The UAE Space Agency offered a livestream of the spacecraft’s arrival. Find the livestream website here. The livestream began at 10 a.m. ET.

You can also see where the spacecraft is, how fast it’s traveling and more in this mission tracker. The space agency will also share updates on social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Updates are being provided in both English and Arabic.

Around 10:45 a.m. ET nearly half of the spacecraft’s fuel was spent to slow it down enough to capture Mars’ orbit. Hope’s thrusters will fire for about 30 minutes, putting the breaks on and slowing the spacecraft from over 75,185 mph to approximately 11,184 mph. During this time, mission managers weren’t able to do anything as this phase happened autonomously. If it didn’t slow down, the spacecraft would have burn up into the Martian atmosphere.

“Anything that slightly goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and the chair of the UAE’s space agency.

Just before 11 a.m. the UAE Space Agency confirmed the spacecraft had survived and was beginning it’s high orbit of the red planet.

After successfully making it into its orbit, the science instruments will need to be checked before observations can begin.

The UAE hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists and space explorers with the $200 million mission.

“This mission was never about just reaching Mars,” said Omran Sharaf, Amal’s project manager. “Mars is just a means for a much bigger objective.”

February is going to be a high-traffic month for Mars as three countries all have missions arriving.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover is also scheduled to arrive to the red planet Feb. 18. If all goes well Tuesday for UAE’s Hope probe, it will mark the nation’s first successful orbital insertion to Mars. Only the U.S., India, Russia and Europe are among the nation’s with successful Martian robotic missions. China’s space program also hopes to join those ranks this week with an orbiter and rover combo mission set to arrive Wednesday. Only about half of missions to Mars survive.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.