By Tony Winterburn • 09 February 2021 • 8:25
Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe Lines Up For Historic Manoeuvre. image: Pixabay
Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe Lines Up For Historic Orbit Insertion Manoeuvre.
The Hope spacecraft, launched from Earth seven months ago, is about to reach the decisive moment in its long journey – orbit insertion. Currently moving at over 120,000km/h (75,000mph), it must fire its braking engines for 27 minutes to be sure of being captured by the planet’s gravity. If successful, it would enable Hope to begin its mission to study Mars’ climate.
“We’re entering a very critical phase,” said project director, Omran Sharaf. “It’s a phase that basically defines whether we reach Mars, or not; and whether we’ll be able to conduct our science, or not. If we go too slow, we crash on Mars; if we go too fast, we skip Mars,” he said.
For Hope, everything rides on the orbit insertion manoeuvre. In the past couple of months, engineers have trimmed the spacecraft’s trajectory so that it reaches the planet at precisely the right moment in space and time to begin the braking burn. The approach speed needs to come down to about 18,000km/h.
Mission control at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) in Dubai will have some data streaming back on the performance of Hope’s thrusters, but there is nothing anyone can do to intervene if something goes awry.
Mars and Earth are presently separated by 190 million km, meaning it would take a radio command fully 11 minutes to reach the probe – too long to make a difference. Hope must rely on autonomy to complete the manoeuvre.
Hope is the first of three missions to arrive at the Red Planet this month. On Feb 17, the Chinese Tianwen-1 orbiter will also try to make it into orbit, while the Americans are expected to turn up on the 18th with another big Mars rover.
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