The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency will be sending a probe to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, with the aim of ultimately landing on an asteroid in the early 2030s, in a mission that will surely be a major boost for the country’s private sector space companies.
The mission will launch in 2028. From there the spacecraft will have a long and winding journey: It will travel 3.6 billion kilometers over five years, boomeranging around both Venus and Earth to build enough velocity to eventually arrive at the asteroid belt beyond Mars in 2030. The UAE aims to land the spacecraft on an asteroid in 2033 — an ambitious target for a country that only founded its space agency in 2014.
If successful, the UAE Space Agency would join a very small group — including NASA, the European Space Agency and Japan’s space agency JAXA — in landing a vehicle on a planetoid. The exact scientific goals of the mission will be announced next year, but any data the spacecraft collects could help deepen our understanding of the origins of the universe. That’s because asteroids are thought by some scientists to be celestial leftovers from when the solar system was formed.
This is the latest, and most ambitious, effort from the UAE, which has been aiming to boost its domestic space sector. Crucially, the UAE will give priority access to contracts and procurement to Emirari companies, which stand to benefit from the project.
Last year, the country launched the Emirates Mars Mission Hope probe, which went into orbit around Mars in February of this year. That probe will spend one Martian year (687 days) orbiting the red planet and collecting data about its atmosphere.
The UAE will also be sending a 22-pound lunar rover, dubbed Rashid, to the moon in 2022. That payload, which also includes tech from three private Canadian companies, will be delivered aboard Japanese space startup ispace’s Hakuto-R lander.
Sarah Al Amiri, chair of the UAE Space Agency, said this newest mission will be “in the order of five times more complex” than the mission to Mars. Among the new challenges will be “spacecraft design and engineering, interplanetary navigation and complex systems integration,” as well as higher performance requirements from the spacecraft’s communications, power and propulsion systems, the UAE said in a statement.