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United Arab Emirates plans to launch mission to moon in 2024

United Arab Emirates' Mars orbiter, Hope, lifts off from southern Japan in July.
The United Arab Emirates’ Mars orbiter, Hope, lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan, in July.
(MHI)

The United Arab Emirates plans to send an unmanned mission to the moon in 2024, a top Emirati official said Tuesday, a new gamble in space by the oil-rich nation that could see it become only the fourth country to accomplish that goal.

The announcement by Dubai’s ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also serves as the vice president and prime minister of the hereditarily ruled UAE, shows the rapid expansion of the space program that bears his name. Already, an Emirati space probe launched two months ago is hurtling through space on its way to Mars. Last year, the UAE sent its first astronaut to the International Space Station.

“It will be an Emirati-made lunar rover that will land on the surface of the moon in 2024 in areas that have not been explored previously by human missions,” Sheik Mohammed wrote on Twitter.

He did not elaborate on the location that the UAE planned to explore, nor how it would launch the rover into space.

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The launch of its Amal, or “Hope,” orbiter to Mars took place at southern Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which launched that probe, said nothing had been decided about the launch of the moon rover.

The Emirati rover will study the lunar surface, mobility on the moon and how different surfaces interact with lunar particles, the Emirati government said. The 22-pound rover is to carry two high-resolution cameras, a microscopic camera, a thermal imagery camera, a probe and other devices, the government said.

The United Arab Emirates is sending a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, the first interplanetary mission from the Arab world.

Sheik Mohammed said the rover would be named Rashid, after his late father, Sheik Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Sheik Rashid was one of the original founding rulers of the UAE, a federation of seven sheikdoms on the Arabian Peninsula.

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Sheik Mohammed made his Twitter announcement after a closed-door meeting with other Emirati officials. State media photographs of the meeting showed him and others wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If successful in 2024, and presuming no new nation accomplishes the feat before then, the UAE would become the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon, after the U.S., the Soviet Union and China. India tried and failed to land a spacecraft last year. Israel also saw its own small spacecraft crash into the lunar surface last year before touchdown, failing in an ambitious attempt to make history with the first privately funded lunar landing.

The UAE’s Mars probe is set to reach the red planet in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since the country’s formation. The following September, Amal is expected to start transmitting data on the Martian atmosphere, which will be made available to the international scientific community, officials say.

A successful mission to the moon would be a major step for the oil-dependent economy as it seeks a future in space. The UAE also has set the ambitious goal of establishing a human colony on Mars by 2117.


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