The United Arab Emirates on Monday successfully launched a 1.5-ton Mars orbiter from a launchpad in Japan, officially marking what is being called the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
The Emirates Mars Mission’s journey to the Red Planet will take seven months, with the vehicle arriving at its destination in time to celebrate the U.A.E.’s 50th birthday. The launch of the rocket carrying the unmanned probe, dubbed Al-Amal, or Hope, took place at the Tanegashima Space Center, south of Kyushu.
Delayed due to bad weather, the launch finally took place at 6:58am on Monday. The probe detached from the rocket as planned, and within 70 minutes, began transmitting signals back to the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai.
Though the rocket was launched in Japan, the Emirati team at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai looked on, cheering as the rocket successfully separated through its three stages.
Once it arrives at Mars, the Al-Amal probe will be able to transmit information about the Martian upper atmosphere and climate back to Dubai, the AP reported. It will also help study the planet’s evolution from a warm, possibly microbe-harboring planet to the cold, barren one it is today.
“The U.A.E. is now a member of the club and we will learn more and we will engage more and we’ll continue developing our space exploration program,” U.A.E. Space Agency chief Mohammed Al Ahbabi said.
Sarah Al Amiri, deputy project manager and science lead for the Emirates Mars Mission, told NPR that the orbiter will provide a full understanding of weather changes throughout a Martian year, which lasts around two Earth years. To accomplish this, the probe enters an unusual orbit around Mars that will take it over every point on the planet once a week.
It’s only been a year since the U.A.E. sent its first astronaut, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, to the International Space Station for a week.
“It sends a very strong message to the Arab youth that if the U.A.E. is able to reach Mars in less than 50 years, they could do much more,” Mars Mission Director Omran Sharaf told the AP during preparations for the launch.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, meanwhile, commended the U.A.E. on finding success in such a short time.
The U.A.E. has three Earth observation satellites in orbit—two developed by South Korea and launched by Russia, and a third developed by the U.A.E. and launched by Japan.
The nation has also set itself the goal of building a human colony on Mars by 2117.
“So the region has been going through tough times in the past decades, if not centuries,” Sharaf told the AP. “Now we have the case of the U.A.E., a country that’s moving forward with its plans, looking at the future and the future of [the] region also.”
Altogether, the spacecraft and launch cost $200 million, not counting operation costs once the orbiter reaches Mars.
The launch kicks off the so-called “Mars Season”—a period once every 26 months when vehicles enjoy the shortest possible travel distance between the two planets—and within the next 10 days two more spacecraft are slated to lift off for journeys to the Red Planet.
China in the coming weeks is launching a Mars rover that will search for water and ice on the planet’s surface, while the United States is set to launch Perseverance, its fifth such rover, to collect rock samples and search for signs of ancient life.