UAE to launch mission to explore Venus, land on asteroid

Set to launch in 2028, the mission will see the UAE explore the planet Venus as well as seven asteroids before being the first Arab nation to land on an asteroid.

Asteroid illustrative (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Asteroid illustrative
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The United Arab Emirates is launching a new space mission, this time planning to be the first Arab nation to successfully land on an asteroid, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced over Twitter.

Tentatively set to launch in 2028 with a seven-year development time for the spacecraft, the mission will see the UAE explore the planet Venus, as well as seven asteroids, culminating in a planned landing on an asteroid itself in 2033 after a five-year journey, the Associated Press reported.

The announcement comes just one year after the successful Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), which was the culmination of six years of work and saw the Hope Probe arrive in the Martian orbit in February 2021. But according to UAE Space Agency chair Sara al-Amiri, this next mission is far more complicated. 

"When we embarked on the Emirates Mars Mission, we took on a six-year task that was in the order of five times more complex than the earth observation satellites we were developing. This mission is in the order of five times more complex than EMM," she said in a statement, according to the Khaleej Times.

Infographic showing the planned Emirates Mars Mission journey. (credit: UAE SPACE AGENCY)Infographic showing the planned Emirates Mars Mission journey. (credit: UAE SPACE AGENCY)

This new spacecraft will travel seven times the distance of the Hope Probe, with the journey stretching some 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) and, due to coming within 67 million miles (109 kilometers) of the Sun, will require it to have specialized thermal shielding, CNN reported.

The planned asteroid mission was lauded by UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahayan.

"The launch of a new project to explore Venus and the asteroid belt sets an ambitious new goal for our country’s burgeoning space program," the crown prince tweeted. 

"The UAE is determined to make a meaningful contribution to space exploration, scientific research and our understanding of the solar system."

The mission's potential to explore Venus was noted by some experts as having the potential to gain further understanding of one of Earth's closest neighbors, a planet so similar in size that NASA has noted its nickname as "Earth's twin," but whose overall climate and atmosphere are radically different.

The planet is mysterious, with NASA noting it as characterized by "a thick, toxic atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide and it’s perpetually shrouded in thick, yellowish clouds of sulfuric acid that trap heat, causing a runaway greenhouse effect." The air pressure on the planet is intense and is 90 times greater than what can be experienced on the surface of the Earth - in fact, it is more comparable to the pressure found a mile under the ocean. It is also the hottest planet in the solar system, with surface temperatures estimated by NASA to be at about 475 degrees Celsius (900 degrees Fahrenheit), which can even melt lead.

The planet Venus (credit: Wikimedia Commons)The planet Venus (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Space agencies have sent probes to the planet in the past, and it was first scanned by a NASA probe in 1962 and later explored by others. Some of these continued recently, such as NASA's Parker Solar Probe, which has made multiple flybys of Venus in recent years. But landing missions are another story. Both the US and USSR attempted to land probes on the planet in the past, but they never lasted long, with a NASA probe landing in 1978 lasting just an hour in the intense conditions.

Despite this, many scientists see considerable value in the planet, and some even claim that microscopic life may exist in the atmosphere, though this is highly contested.

“I’m sure this will be helpful in the overall context of Venus science. It is likely to be one of several missions to Venus in the next decade,” said London's Birkbeck University's professor of planetary science and astrobiology Ian Crawford said, the National reported.

Indeed, both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have several planned Venus missions in the coming decade.

But landing on asteroids is a far more exciting prospect for some. Three nations have landed on asteroids in the past, and many see them as possible sources for future mining operations, as these asteroids can be rich in raw materials.

Scientists continue to intensely study these objects, with NASA's upcoming Lucy mission, set to launch on October 16, is equipped with equipment to study multiple asteroids in the upcoming years.

This is not the end of the UAE's space ambitions, however, with the UAE planning to become the first Arab nation - and fourth nation worldwide - to successfully land a rover on the Moon at the end of 2022, the Khaleej Times reported.