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

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

Named Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt, the project aims to develop a spacecraft in the coming 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 this was the first mission to Mars from the region,” said Mohsen Al Awadhi, program manager for the Emirates mission in the asteroid belt. “We are creating the same with this mission. That is, the first mission to explore these seven asteroids in particular and the first of its kind when viewed from a grand tour perspective.

The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country and the second country 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 provide the first complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers and help answer key questions about the planet’s climate and composition.

If successful, the newly announced spacecraft will soar at speeds of up to 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 which scientists say could provide insight into the building blocks of life on Earth.

Organic compounds like water are crucial constituents of life and have been found on some asteroids, potentially released through collisions with other organic-rich bodies or through the creation of complex organic molecules in space. Studying the origins of these compounds, as well as the possible presence of water on red asteroids, could shed light on the origin of Earth’s water, offering valuable insights into the genesis of life on earth. our planet.

The venture is a milestone for the burgeoning UAE Space Agency, which was just established in 2014, as it follows its success in sending the Amal probe, or “Hope “, on Mars. The new trip would cover a distance more than ten times greater than the Mars mission.

The explorer is named MBR after the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. It will head first to Venus where the planet’s gravitational pull will send it back past Earth and then Mars.

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

In October 2034, the craft should make its final push towards 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, would potentially have a surface charged with organic substances and would come 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 quite understand why it’s so red,” said Hoor AlMaazmi, a space science researcher at the Emirates Space Agency. United Arabs. “There are theories that it originated in the Kuiper Belt and there are a lot more red objects there. So that’s something we can study because it has the potential to be water-rich as well. .

The MBR Explorer will deploy a landing craft to survey the surface of Justitia which is entirely developed by private start-ups in the UAE. This could lay the groundwork for possible future extraction of resources from asteroids to possibly support extended human missions in space – and perhaps even the UAE’s ambitious goal of building a colony on Mars d here 2117.

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

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