UAE heading to asteroid belt as it announces new space mission

The spacecraft will travel to an asteroid called Justitia that could give insight into the genesis of life on Earth.

This computer graphic rendering shows the MBR Explorer
This computer graphic rendering shows the MBR Explorer [UAE Space Agency via AP]

The United Arab Emirates is planning to send a spaceship to explore the solar system’s main asteroid belt in order to unearth clues about the origins of life on Earth.

The country unveiled plans for the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt on Monday, hoping to launch the spacecraft, once it is built, in 2028 to study seven asteroids.

The 13-year project will take six years of development and seven years of exploration, spanning more than 5 billion kilometres (about 3 billion miles) and surpassing Mars, according to Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The spacecraft is named MBR, after the leader.

“The remarkable journey will be 10 times the distance covered by the Hope Probe,” said Al Maktoum, referring to the UAE mission to Mars in February 2021.

The Hope probe gave the UAE the honour of being the first Arab country and the second country ever to successfully enter Mars’ orbit.

The latest spacecraft, if successful, will travel at a speed of 33,000km (20,500 miles) per hour, reaching six asteroids, and terminating at a seventh one in 2034 called Justitia, which could give more insight into the genesis of life on Earth.

This could happen through the study of the origins of organic compounds like water, which have been found on some asteroids. Justitia in particular is believed to have a number of organic substances on its surface.

“It’s one of the two reddest objects in the asteroid belt, and scientists don’t really understand why it’s so red,” said Hoor al-Maazmi, a space science researcher at the UAE space agency, referring to Justitia.

“There are theories about it being originally from the Kuiper Belt and where there’s much more red objects there. So that’s one thing that we can study because it has the potential for it to be water-rich as well,” she added.

The explorer will be developed by private UAE start-up companies and could be the start of the country’s desire to extract resources from asteroids, or even its ambitious goal of building a colony on Mars by 2117.

The Gulf region has been innovating in the sector in recent years.

Last week, two Saudi astronauts travelled to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time.

This came on the heels of UAE astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi becoming the first Arab to undertake a spacewalk last month.

In 2019, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, also from the UAE, became the first Arab to reach the International Space Station.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies