Dr. Hamad Al-Marzouqi, director of the Emirates Moon Exploration Project, told Al Jundi Journal that the Emirati “Rashid”, Explorer, the first scientific Arab mission to explore the moon, will study new sites for the first time on its surface, while it will be designed and developed by 100% Emirati citizens at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, while female Emirati engineers represent 35% of the work team. Explorer launch will be in 2024. Dr. Al-Marzouqi Pointed out that the mission comes as confirmation of the UAE’s scientific leadership in space, science and research, enhancing the competitiveness of space industry sector in the UAE regionally and globally, and designing technologies that enable UAE to send human missions to Mars in future.
Dr. Al-Marzouqi added in detail that the project comes within the framework of the “Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center Strategy 2021-2031” and the National Space Strategy 2030, and it stems from specific scientific goals, including the development of robotic technologies for exploration vehicle systems, and the study of new sites for the first time on the surface of the moon, in addition to study and analysis of dust, while tasks of “Rashid,” the Explorer include conducting tests to study various aspects of the moon surface, including the lunar soil, thermal properties of surface structures, the lunar photoelectric envelope, plasma and optoelectronic measurements, and dust particles located above the luminous part of the moon surface.
He added that the Emirati Explorer will travel the surface of the moon, traveling in new locations that have not been previously studied before, where it will capture rare data and images, which are planned to reach more than 1000 images, and then send them to the ground control station at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, and test devices and technical equipment that are being tried for the first time, related to robotics, communications, mobility and navigation.
Al-Marzouqi mentioned that the Explorer was called “Rashid” in honor of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the builder of modern Dubai, and it will conduct many scientific tests that contribute to making qualitative developments in the fields of science and technology, communication technologies, robots, and many other sectors, such as the technological industries sector, the telecommunications sector, and other related sectors.
He explained that the national cadres team of engineers and researchers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center will work to complete the development of the engineering design by 2021, provided that the engineering model will be manufactured in 2022, and then the initial experiments and tests to develop the prototype will be conducted in 2023, while the launch of the moon Explorer will be in 2024, another time record which will be added to the achievements of the UAE in space.
He indicated that “Rashid” is distinguished by a number of high-quality and efficient technical advantages and specifications, as it will be equipped with high-quality cameras with scientific and technical uses, including two main cameras, one of which is controlled vertically and horizontally, a microscope camera, a thermal imaging camera, a suspension system, advanced sensor and communication systems, an external structure and solar panels to provide it with energy, explaining that it will work by relying on solar panels, in addition to sensors and systems equipped to analyze the properties of soil, dust, radioactive and electrical activities, and rocks, and it will also include a system to enhance the efficiency of the Explorer’s wheels adherence to the surface of the moon, and to facilitate the process of overcoming natural barriers, and a sturdy structure to protect devices and motors from changing temperatures.
Al-Marzouki pointed out that there are many challenges facing Rashid’s mission, related to the difficult environment on the surface of the moon, as it is characterized by an environment harder than Mars, in which the temperature reaches minus 173 degrees Celsius, in addition to the difficult lunar soil characteristics and the thermal properties of the structures, surface, and other factors that may pose challenges to the Explorer mission, stressing that the focus of the scientific team of experts and engineers is to develop an Explorer capable of overcoming potential obstacles, which include the difficulty of landing on the surface of the moon, which is considered one of the most difficult space exploration missions, due to the accuracy that it is required for the success of the operation, as the success rate is only 45%.
He also pointed out that this project will support the UAE’s efforts to promote the space industry sector in the region, develop it and enable it to contribute to making the future with innovative Emirati minds and arms, prepare and qualify them in the field of outer space exploration, explaining that through this project, the UAE is adding a new chapter in the history of space missions to the moon, and to enter history in the race of minds, to confirm the position of the our beloved country and its reputation in the service of mankind, and to strengthen its vision of leading an Arab scientific renaissance in the region, and making it a destination for scholars and researchers.
He stated that the Explorer will be developed at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, while there will be cooperation with an international partner that will be chosen during the coming period, to support “Rashid” in the process of landing on the surface of the moon, indicating that the importance of the project stems from the existence of scientific inquiries about the moon that have not been revealed them so far, while the scientific community is looking for answers that explain them. This community has conducted careful studies of various previous missions of the moon, to identify their results, and therefore the task of the Emirati Explorer will start from where the others ended, so that it is a real and strong addition to the global science community as well as learning about the extent of its needs with regard to new space technologies.
He explained that the UAE mission to explore the moon depends in its details and scientific objectives on the achievements of the previous missions, especially that there is a global map for the exploration of outer space, which aims to enhance scientific exchange between countries and reach new horizons of discoveries in space science.
Al-Marzouki warned that every space mission has its own peculiarities, and that is why we need to develop our own new technology that suits the nature of our mission. Our engineers and all Emirati involved in this mission depend on the continuous development of technology in this regard to reduce the proportion of risks, and it is necessary to understand the risks in such tasks, in order to avoid them and take advantage of the errors that caused the failure of previous missions, especially as they aim to reach to Mars, and building a human settlement on its surface, and that reaching the moon is an important station, for designing and developing technologies that enable us in the future to send human missions to Mars.
He stressed that the Emirati Explorer will land in an area that has not been tested by any of the previous moon exploration missions, and then the data and images that it will provide will be modern, new, and of high value. While “Rashid” will, during the experiment, represent an ideal platform for testing new technologies and equipment that will be used in future space exploration missions, including Mars, it will collect data related to scientific issues, such as the origin of the solar system, our planet and life.
He added that the landing on the surface of the moon will allow testing the exposure of sensors and other technologies to the space environment for long periods, and testing new technologies, because the moon is the best environment for such tests and the closest to Earth, which will help to test the capabilities of the UAE before embarking on manned exploration missions to Mars, especially the project is a pivotal step that paves the way for the realization of the “Mars 2117 Strategy”, and will provide answers and information that define the course of their mission to explore the Red Planet.
And he added that the UAE project to explore the moon will certainly be again a pivotal step that paves the way for the realization of the “Mars 2117 strategy”, as the project will provide information that will help them in their mission to explore Mars, and benefit human knowledge. The plan for the Explorer is to send pictures of the landing on the surface of the moon, the first surface images, and night photos of the Earth, thermal imaging, and self images, in addition to sending navigation data, which includes flight time, surface terrain data on the surface of the moon, inertial measurement unit (IMU) data, temperatures, and energy consumption. All of these outputs pave the way for the successful Mars exploration project.
He stressed that with regard to the qualification of national cadres, the project is an ideal opportunity to qualify more Emiratis in this sector, and to give them more experience and skills, in order to enable them to lead larger tasks in the future. This will be achieved greatly during the work on building the Explorer. As for inspiring the new generations, the many Emirati achievements in space sector have become an important incentive for many to join this sector to serve their country and raise its banner high, especially that the “Emirates Moon Exploration Project” falls within the “Mars 2117” strategy initiatives aimed at building the first human settlement on Mars, while the project is directly funded by the Communications and Information Technology Development Fund, the financing arm of the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.
Interviewed by: Razi ELhadmi – Photography by: Mohammed Al Shaer