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UAE outlines asteroid mission plans


WASHINGTON — The United Arab Emirates has released new details about its planned mission to the main asteroid belt, similar to ongoing NASA missions.

The UAE space agency said its Emirates Asteroid Mission (EMA) is scheduled to launch in March 2028 and fly by six asteroids in the main asteroid belt before arriving at the seventh asteroid in 2034.

Sarah Al Amiri, chairperson of the UAE Space Agency, said in a statement: “EMA is a key component of the UAE’s national space strategy with one overarching objective: to create viable and rewarding jobs for young Emiratis for future generations”.

The EMA spacecraft, named MBR Explorer after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, weighed nearly 2,300 kilograms at launch and carried four satellites from US and Italian partners. instrument. More than 50 percent of the “turnkey missions” will be developed by Emirati companies, the agency said, but only satellite operator Yahsat was listed in the announcement.

The UAE space agency has previously said it plans to develop an asteroid mission as a successor to the $200 million Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), also known as Hope, which launched in 2020 and remains on Mars. running. The May 29 announcement provided the most detailed information to date on the planned mission and its partners.

Notable in the announcement, though, is the estimated cost of the EMA. A spokesman representing the UAE space agency did not respond to questions about the mission, including its cost.

The MBR Explorer spacecraft is similar to NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, which launched in October 2021 on a mission to fly by two main-belt asteroids and several Trojan asteroids that guide and follow Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. The total cost of the Lucy mission, including launch and operations, is close to $1 billion.

This similarity includes the use of large circular solar panels to provide electricity. Lucy’s array has a diameter of 7.3 meters and is manufactured by Northrop Grumman, bringing the spacecraft’s length to nearly 16 meters. The UAE space agency did not disclose the dimensions of the arrays or their manufacturer, but noted that the deployed spacecraft will be 16 meters long.

EMA will have just a three-week launch period in March 2028 to carry out its mission. It will fly by Venus in July 2028, Earth in May 2029, and fly by the main asteroid belts Westerwald, Chimaera and Rockox between February 2030 and January 2031. A Mars gravitational assist in September 2031 will set up three more asteroid flybys of 2000 VA28 , 1998 RC76 and 1999 SG6, July 2032 to August 2033.

The mission will end with a rendezvous with the seventh main-belt asteroid, Justitia, in October 2034. It will stay there until at least May 2035, when it will release a lander to touch the surface. The UAE space agency said the lander would come from “a start-up company in the UAE’s private space sector,” but did not reveal the name of the company or other details about the lander.

The mission has several science goals, the first of which is to study the origin and evolution of water-rich asteroids. Planetary scientists suspect that the unusually red Justitia may have formed in the outer solar system and migrated to the main belt.

“As with EMM, the open contribution of novel science and our scientific data to the global community without embargoes is an important aspect of EMA,” Hoor Al Mazmi, head of EMA’s science team, said in a statement.

The mission will be in collaboration with several universities and organizations in the UAE and elsewhere. The University of Colorado’s Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics will be EMA’s “knowledge transfer partner,” which it also played on the Hope Mars Orbiter, supporting the assembly and testing of the spacecraft. The UAE space agency said it has not yet selected a launch provider for the mission.


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