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UAE announces new mission to explore asteroid belt

The project aims to develop a spacecraft in the coming years and then launch it in 2028 to study various asteroids.

The United Arab Emirates has announced plans 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.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, today said that the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt (EMA) is a massive scientific project that will result in the establishment of Emirati companies specialised in space science and technology.

He added: “The UAE has launched a new 13-year space project that features six years of spacecraft development and seven years of exploration. The UAE spacecraft ‘MBR Explorer’ will undertake a 5bn km journey passing through Mars to explore seven asteroids in the main asteroid belt and ultimately landing on the last asteroid in 2034.

“The Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt is a massive scientific project that will result in the establishment of private Emirati companies specialised in space science and technology, the development of a deep space mission control centre, and the training of Emirati talent.”

He further stated: “The Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt will cover 10 times the distance covered by the ‘Hope Probe’. Emirati youth believe in the motto that “The Impossible is Possible”.

“The secret behind our 5bn km space mission is our belief in the capabilities of our youth, and our efforts to support them in achieving their ambitions.”

At an event held in Qasr Al Watan, Abu Dhabi, the UAE Space Agency announced the details and objectives of the EMA, the first multiple-asteroid tour and landing mission to the main belt asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.

The Agency released details of the design of the spacecraft named the ‘MBR Explorer’, in addition to mission operations and scientific objectives. It also announced a three-week launch period for the mission starting in March 2028.

The mission aims to add to our understanding of the foundation of the solar system and the presence and origins of the building blocks of life found in the asteroid belt, as well as prepare the ground for possible future resource extraction from asteroids.

The EMA comprises a 13-year mission: a six-year spacecraft development phase followed by a seven-year flight to the main asteroid belt beyond Mars, and a series of close flybys to conduct unique observations of seven main belt asteroids.

Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, commented: “The EMA is a key component of the UAE National Space Strategy and has one over-riding goal – the creation of viable and rewarding employment opportunities for young Emiratis for generations to come. Emirati learning, knowledge transfer and innovation lie at the heart of the EMA. The mission will contribute to empowering local private sector companies and UAE start-ups.”

Salem Butti Salem Al Qubaisi, the UAE Space Agency’s Director General noted: “In addition to extensive research, development and finance, long-term space missions require extensive cooperation with local and global institutions and the private sector. We are keen to expand strategic partnerships with the local private sector to ensure the success and accelerated growth of our future space projects.”

The MBR Explorer’s 5bn km journey includes gravity-assist manoeuvres around Venus, Earth and Mars to change the spacecraft’s velocity and support its flyby campaign, with its first asteroid encounter taking place in February 2030. Subsequent flybys will occur through to 2034, when the mission’s seventh asteroid encounter will involve a rendezvous and landing. The spacecraft will release a lander, which will beam science data up from the asteroid’s surface.

The EMA will drive significant economic opportunities, including new start-ups, international partnerships and inward investment to the UAE space sector, creating new commercial opportunities to accelerate the growth of innovation and advanced technology companies in the UAE.

The MBR Explorer’s four science instruments include a high-resolution camera, a thermal infrared camera, a mid-wavelength spectrometer and an infrared spectrometer. Together, these instruments will support observations that will measure the surface composition, geology and interior density and structure of asteroids across five of the main belt ‘families’, helping to better understand the origins and evolution of water-rich asteroids and also to assess the resource potential of asteroids and prepare the way for future asteroid resource utilisation.

The mission’s academic partners include Khalifa University; the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD); the National Center for Space Science and Technology at UAEU; the University of Colorado Boulder; the Italian Space Agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI); Arizona State University & Northern Arizona University and Malin Space Science Systems. Contributors to the mission include Emirati national companies and institutions such as TII and Yahsat, as well as local and global private space sector partners.