Through close collaboration with US partners, the United Arab Emirates is inspiring a new generation of space explorers and scientists. From launching the Arab world’s first Mission to Mars to signing the Artemis Accords, the nation is rapidly emerging as a leader in space science and exploration.
Expected to arrive on the lunar surface in April 2023, the Emirates Lunar Mission’s Rashid Rover, named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, will study its surroundings for at least one lunar day, or about 14 Earth days, using a high-resolution camera, a thermal imager, a microscopic imager, and a Langmuir probe. This mission could help scientists better understand the electrically charged environment on the lunar surface, which is apparently caused by the solar wind, the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from the sun.
In October 2020, the UAE Space Agency joined NASA and other space agencies in signing the Artemis Accords, which aimed to further collaboration on lunar exploration. A true international collaboration, the Rashid Rover blasted off for the Moon in late 2022 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket, in a lunar lander designed by Japanese company ispace. If successful, this mission will add the UAE and Japan to the short list of nations – US, Russia, and China – that placed spacecraft on the moon.
In March 2023, UAE astronaut Dr. Sultan Al Neyadi arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 Mission. He will spend six months onboard the orbiting ISS science laboratory, marking the Arab world’s first long-duration space mission and the UAE’s second mission to the ISS. In 2019, astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri became the first Emirati to ever travel to space.
In preparation for his mission to the ISS, Dr. Al Neyadi received training alongside NASA astronauts at facilities across the US, including NASA’s Johnson Space Centre and SpaceX HQ. With a two-year basic astronaut training program under his belt, Al Neyadi is qualified to go on additional NASA-led missions. Additional Emirati candidates, Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi, have begun their training alongside aspiring American astronauts. Chosen from over 4,000 applicants, Nora Al Matrooshi will be the first female Arab astronaut.
In February 2021, the UAE became the first Arab nation and fifth country to reach Mars, coinciding with the year of the UAE’s 50th anniversary. After traveling 306 million miles in seven months, the UAE’s Hope Probe now orbits the Red Planet. Using three cutting-edge scientific instruments, Hope is collecting and transmitting data about the planet’s atmosphere back to Earth, helping scientists create the first complete depiction of the Martian atmosphere.
“Hope” or “Al Amal” in Arabic – represents the culmination of an innovative knowledge transfer and development program between the UAE and international partners. Emirati engineers worked closely with scientists at US educational institutions such as University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State University.
For the less imminent future, the UAE sets its sights on the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the source of most meteorites that impact Earth. The new interplanetary mission was announced as part of the UAE’s “Projects of the 50”—a series of innovative projects to accelerate the UAE into its next 50 years—and will be developed in partnership with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder.
The team driving the UAE’s space program represents a new generation of Emirati engineers that is predominantly female. 50% of the employees at the UAE Space Agency are women. This includes HE Sarah Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, and Heyam Al Blooshi, a UAE Space Agency engineer, who worked on the Hope Probe. Learn more about how women are leading the charge towards innovation and progress in science and technology for the UAE here.