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UAE Plans Mission To Asteroid Belt

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency has unveiled that the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt (EMA) is scheduled for launch in March 2028. 

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Jun 13 2023Written by Zac Aubert

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency has unveiled that the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt (EMA) is scheduled for launch in March 2028. 

The spacecraft, named MBR Explorer after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, will embark on a journey to explore six asteroids in the main asteroid belt before reaching a seventh asteroid in 2034.

At launch, the MBR Explorer spacecraft will weigh approximately 2,300 kilograms and will carry four instruments developed in collaboration with American and Italian partners. The UAE Space Agency highlighted that over 50% of the overall mission's development will be carried out by UAE companies, with satellite operator Yahsat being the only listed partner in the announcement.

The recent announcement provided the most comprehensive details about the EMA mission and its partners so far; however absent from the announcement, was the estimated cost of the EMA mission.

The MBR Explorer spacecraft bears a resemblance to NASA's Lucy spacecraft, which was launched in October 2021 for a mission to fly by main belt asteroids as well as Trojan asteroids associated with Jupiter's orbit around the sun. The Lucy mission has an estimated cost of nearly $1 billion, covering expenses such as launch and operations.

One similarity between the two spacecraft is the use of large circular solar panels for power generation. While the UAE Space Agency did not disclose the dimensions or manufacturer of the arrays, it did reveal that the deployed spacecraft would measure approximately 16 meters in length.

Mission Timeline

The EMA mission has a narrow launch window of just three weeks in March 2028.

It will conduct flybys of Venus in July 2028 and Earth in May 2029, followed by encounters with the main belt asteroids Westerwald, Chimaera, and Rockox between February 2030 and January 2031. A Mars gravity assist in September 2031 will enable the spacecraft to continue its journey with three additional asteroid flybys: 2000 VA28, 1998 RC76, and 1999 SG6, which will occur between July 2032 and August 2033.

The mission's culmination will be a rendezvous with the seventh main belt asteroid, Justitia, in October 2034. The spacecraft will remain in close proximity to Justitia until at least May 2035, at which point a lander will be deployed to touch down on the asteroid's surface.

The UAE Space Agency announced that the lander will originate from an Emirati private space sector startup, but no further details about the company or the lander were disclosed.

Scientific Objectives

The EMA mission has several scientific objectives, with a primary focus on studying the origin and evolution of water-rich asteroids. Scientists speculate that Justitia, which exhibits an unusually red color, may have formed in the outer solar system before migrating to the main asteroid belt. Like the Emirates Mars Mission, EMA aims to facilitate novel scientific discoveries and open access to its data for the global community.

The mission holds great significance for the country's aspirations in space exploration as the UAE National Space Strategy aims to create sustainable and rewarding employment opportunities for young Emiratis for generations to come. Several universities and organizations in the UAE and beyond will collaborate on the EMA mission.