United Arab Emirates to launch bold asteroid mission in 2028


United Arab Emirates to launch bold asteroid mission in 2028

An artist's illustration of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the main destination of the United Arab Emirates' second interplanetary mission. (Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has set its sights beyond Mars.

The nation today (Oct. 5) announced plans to launch an ambitious mission to the asteroid belt in 2028. It will be the UAE's second interplanetary effort; the first, the Emirates Mars Mission, launched an orbiter called Hope to the Red Planet in July 2020.

Hope is still going strong, and the coming asteroid mission will build on its successes, UAE officials said.

Photos: Asteroids in deep space

"Our goal is clear: to accelerate the development of innovation and knowledge-based enterprises in the Emirates," Sarah Al Amiri, chair of the UAE Space Agency, said in an emailed statement today.

"This can't be done by going steady-state; this requires leaps in imagination, in faith and the pursuit of goals that go beyond prudent or methodical," Al Amiri said. "When we embarked on the Emirates Mars Mission, we took on a six-year task that was [on] the order of five times more complex than the Earth-observation satellites we were developing. This mission is [on] the order of five times more complex than EMM."

If all goes according to plan, the asteroid mission, whose name has not yet been revealed, will launch in 2028. It will perform speed-boosting flybys of Venus and Earth in mid-2028 and mid-2029, respectively, and make it to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in 2030. The probe will study seven different asteroids up close over the course of its mission, which will culminate with a landing on a space rock in 2033.

That final step is quite ambitious. Only a handful of missions — NASA's Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) Shoemaker and OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, and Japan's Hayabusa1 and Hayabusa2 probes — have pulled off a soft landing on an asteroid to date.

The UAE will partner on the asteroid mission with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, which is also a key partner on the Hope Mars mission.

The science goals of the asteroid mission, and the instruments it will carry, will be announced in mid-2022, UAE officials said. 

The asteroid mission is part of the UAE's concerted push into deep space, which also includes the planned delivery of a moon rover called Rashid to the lunar surface in 2022. The nation hopes such efforts will build technological skills in its populace and help grow and diversify its economy, which has long been heavily reliant on oil exportation.

"Today, we are investing in the generations to come," Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, one of the seven emirates that constitute the country, said in the same statement. "With each new advancement we make in space, we create opportunities for young people here on Earth."

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.