Hope ready for science

Published online 19 March 2021

The Emirates Mars Mission is moving into its science orbit around the red planet.

Sedeer el-Showk

A view of Mars captured by the EXI instrument on the Hope probe, showing Olympus Mons.
A view of Mars captured by the EXI instrument on the Hope probe, showing Olympus Mons.

Emirates Mars Mission / EXI
After its successful launch last year and a journey of nearly 500 million kilometres, the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) probe is moving into its science orbit around Mars, positioning itself to collect research data over the next two years. The data will give researchers an unprecedented view of the Martian atmosphere.

The probe, known as Hope, was launched in July 2020 and entered Mars’s orbit on February 9. Since then, the team has been busy calibrating and testing its instruments and subsystems to make sure everything is in order. Hope has already captured and sent back over 800 images of Mars, as well as roughly 30 gigabits of novel data about the planet’s atmosphere.

Now, the probe will transition to its science orbit. The transition was originally planned as three manoeuvres, but the insertion into the capture orbit went well enough that only two will be required, one on March 22 and a second on April 6.

If both manoeuvres go according to plan, Hope will orbit Mars at an angle of 25 degrees from the equator once every 55 hours. “The Hope probe's unique orbit is what will enable the mission’s science,” says Hessa Al Matroushi, the mission’s science lead.

Matroushi explains that Hope’s orbit is much larger than that of the other seven Mars orbiters, providing a view of an entire hemisphere with each observation. It is also “designed to be elliptical enough that Hope alternates between hovering near a single local time while many geographic regions rotate underneath, and orbiting above a single geographic region as it experiences different times of day.” As a result, Hope will enable researchers “to observe all regions on Mars at every time of day, every nine or so Martian days. This kind of global coverage hasn't been achieved by any previous mission.” 

With a more complete dataset, scientists will be able to study how the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere change throughout the day and year, as well as in different areas. The mission also aims to clarify the link between the upper and lower parts of the atmosphere and how this affects the escape of hydrogen and oxygen from the upper atmosphere into space.

The data from Hope will fill a gap in our coverage of Mars, complementing existing missions such as the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter. For example, ozone profile data from the Trace Gas Orbiter are currently only available for certain time points during the Martian day. Arianna Piccialli of the Institut d'Aéronomie Spatiale de Belgique, who analyses these data, is excited what constant coverage will reveal. “EMM will be give us detailed information of the daily variability of ozone, and I’m really looking forward to comparing our observations with those from EMM to get a complete overview,” she says.