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UAE’s space ambitions meteoric

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UAE Flag Day 2021 typified the country’s passion and relentless pursuit of the cosmos when Etihad Airways launched the Gulf nation's flag into space

The UAE’s human spaceflight program is looking at a range of flight options for its astronaut corps Another exploration program underway at MBRSC is the Emirates Lunar Mission The UAE Analog Mission#1 aims to mimic the isolation of space

UAE Flag Day 2021 typified the country’s passion and relentless pursuit of the cosmos when Etihad Airways launched the Gulf nation’s flag into space.

The national carrier worked in collaboration with Send Into Space, a high-altitude balloon operator, to launch the flag to the edge of space, reaching an altitude of 32,182 meters above Earth, on a flight that lasted two hours and 52 minutes.  

“The sky is not the limit for the UAE,” Etihad said in a tweet sharing the video.  

It sure isn’t. The UAE became the first Arab country to send a probe to Mars and recently announced its intention to visit Venus and explore seven asteroids in the Asteroid Belt. It’s just a start.

More UAE spaceflights

The space center responsible for the UAE’s human spaceflight program is looking at a range of flight options for its astronaut corps.

Hazza AlMansoori right along with fellow astronaut Sultan AlNayadi

The country currently has four astronauts, including two selected in April from a pool of more than 4,300 applicants. Only one, Hazzaa AlMansoori, has been in space, spending a week on the International Space Station after launching on a Soyuz mission in September 2019.

Salem AlMarri, deputy director-general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), said in an October 28, 2021 interview: “There are quite a few options that we can look at from a commercial standpoint or from a government-to-government standpoint.”

The center, he said, is in discussions with both NASA and Roscosmos about flight opportunities, while also considering options for commercial flights.

“You can look at Inspiration4 as an example,” he said, referring to the three-day flight of a Crew Dragon with four people on board in September. “You’ve got short-duration missions commercially to the ISS, like Axiom Space, and then you’ve got potential cooperation with governments like Russia and NASA on finding different types of opportunities.”

The center is examining other avenues of cooperation in space exploration, such as NASA’s Artemis program. One example is the inclusion of an Emirati, Abdalla AlHammadi, on an eight-month analog moon mission by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems that starts in November in Moscow. He will be joined by three Russians and two Americans.

Another exploration program underway at MBRSC is the Emirates Lunar Mission, featuring a rover called Rashid. The rover will be on a commercial lunar lander being built by Japanese company ispace and scheduled for launch in October 2022.

Weighing just 10kg and measuring slightly more than 50 cm2, Rashid will study the properties of lunar soil, the geology of the moon, dust movements, and its photoelectron sheath for one lunar day (about two weeks). The rover will also beam more than 1,000 images of the Lunar surface back to mission control at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.

AlMarri said that MBRSC is planning a second, more advanced lunar rover that could launch in 2024.

Asteroid belt

The UAE plans to venture deeper into outer space traveling through Venus towards the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The country’s venture beyond Earth’s orbit is being spearheaded by Sarah Al Amiri, a 33-year-old scientist who is also the country’s Minister of State for Advanced Sciences.

She is also the chairperson of the UAE space agency MBRSC and was deputy project manager for the country’s Mars mission.

In a conversation with India Today, Al Amiri said the asteroid belt gives humanity some of the building blocks that went into the making of planets.  

“Understanding the asteroid that exists up close gives us a bit of an understanding of the origin of planets and planetary formations. Another aspect that we need to look at the asteroid belt is that for future space exploration, it provides valuable resources that enable humans to become a multi-planet race,” Al Amiri said.

We looked at (NASA’s) Lucy and other missions that are going towards asteroids for both near-Earth and asteroid belts. From there, we have identified a set of scientific objectives complementary to other studies.”

Mimicking space exercise

The UAE Analog Mission#1, which aims to mimic the isolation of a space mission, has begun with the crew entering the NEK ground-based analog facility in Moscow, Russia.

Emirati astronaut Saleh AlAmeri is part of an international crew of six who will spend eight months in near isolation as part of the Scientific International Research In Unique Terrestrial Station (SIRIUS-21).

The mission is integral to understanding the effects of isolation and confinement on human psychology, physiology and team dynamics to help prepare for long-duration space exploration. The 240-day mission will replicate various stages and scenarios of a manned mission to the Moon which follows phases such as launch, orbit, landing, and return. 

The analog astronauts will conduct over 70 experiments during the mission. Five entries from four universities in the UAE in the fields of physiology, psychology and biology are also part of these experiments that were selected after consultation with the mission partners in Russia.

The crewmembers are isolated and given certain tasks that they need to do, without any communication to the outside world.

Sirius-21 is an experiment that reproduces the main features of a future interplanetary mission and includes leaving the Earth’s orbit, flight to a hypothetical planet with a subsequent orbital flyby to find a landing site, land an expedition module for conducting scientific research, staying in the orbit to perform operations for receiving transport ships, remote control of robotic vehicles for building a base, and return to Earth.

The UAE’s participation in the SIRIUS mission will play a key role in developing Emirati capabilities and contribute to the development of the Mars 2117 Program, which aims to establish human colonies in Mars by 2117 with a population of perhaps 600,000.