The United Arab Emirates unveils its future mission to explore asteroids (and even land there)

Eric Bottlaender

Space specialist

May 30, 2023 at 1:20 p.m.


UAE asteroid probe MBR Explorer © MBRSC

The MBR Explorer probe will be equipped with solar panels approximately 7 meters in diameter © MBRSC

For 18 months, the teams have been preparing the concept for this ambitious mission to the asteroid belt. The MBR Explorer is expected to fly over 6 small Solar System bodies and drop a small lander on the seventh, 269 Justitia. It is a huge block with astonishing red reflections, to be studied in depth.

The Emirates will once again rely on the expertise of the University of Colorado.

After Mars and the Moon…

It will not have taken a decade for the United Arab Emirates to assert itself as a space power that provides itself with the means for long-term exploration. Those who thought that the Mars probe Hope (Al-Amal) was only a prestige mission for the country’s 50th anniversary were wrong.

In addition to astronautics, satellites and the small Rashid rover (its carrier, the small Hakuto-R lander, crashed on the Moon), the UAE is therefore preparing a mission to the asteroid belt. It had already been mentioned in October 2021, and its take-off date has not changed: March 2028. But the one now called MBR Explorer is much more concrete, with the finalization of the design of the probe and its scientific objectives. . It will weigh 2.3 tons and will be equipped with large rolling disc panels as well as electric ion propulsion for long-distance travel.

Flyovers and asteroids

After takeoff in 2028, MBR Explorer will start its journey with successive gravitational assists from Venus, then from Earth in order to benefit from a slingshot effect and head towards the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It will maneuver very precisely thanks to a set of specific optical systems to pass within 150 kilometers of its objectives, asteroids 10253 Westerwald, 623 Chimaera and 13294 Rockox, before a final flyby of Mars.

It will then approach three space rocks that do not yet have names: 88055, 23871, and 59980, then brake to stay close to its final objective, 269 Justitia. This will be studied in detail over more than 6 months from October 2034 thanks to optical instruments and the two onboard spectrometers. Finally, the probe will drop on this asteroid 50 kilometers in diameter a small specialized lander.

Like what the Japanese and the Franco-German robot Mascot were able to do, the Emirates hope to learn more about the surface, but also about the formation of this particular asteroid, with its astonishing red reflections (it is possible that formed beyond Neptune before being ejected from its orbit and captured).

UAE asteroid probe MBR Explorer list © MBRSC

Obviously, the images of these asteroids are only indicative… © MBRSC

Rocks, ice and… precisely, hey…

Despite its thousands of asteroids, the belt is relatively poorly known. Missions to asteroids have so far focused on near-Earth cruisers (Hayabusa 1 and 2, OSIRIS-REx), and only Dawn (NASA) has gone to visit Vesta and Ceres in the area. NASA’s Lucy and Psyche missions will find out a little more, but this MBR Explorer probe has significant scientific potential, and a goal that is not completely disinterested either.

Indeed, the United Arab Emirates do not hide their intention to prospect, over these 5 billion kilometers, for possible water and mineral resources available on these asteroids. In addition to progressing to design and manufacture ever more daring missions (it is not a question of buying off the shelf, but of developing a large part of it in the Emirates), the space agency intends to position itself well, if ever the ” space mining” becomes an interesting day.

Source : The National News

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