Dubai Airshow: UAE on course for 2021 mission to Mars

An unmanned space mission to Mars is “on track” for 2021 and will benefit from falling costs in the sector, according to the head of the UAE’s space agency.

“The mission is on track in terms of timeline, budget and building capability,” said Mohammed Al Ahbabi, the director general of the UAE Space Agency, at the Dubai Airshow.

Mr Al Ahbabi said that the launch site for the mission will “definitely” be outside the UAE.

“We don’t have launching capability in the country,” he said, adding that the UAE will look for options in Europe, the United States, Russia or Japan.

The country said in May that it would launch a probe – named Hope – to Mars, with the project led by Emiratis.

The satellite will travel more than 60 million kilometres in nine months and will be launched to coincide with the UAE’s 50th anniversary.

Moving forward, Mr Al Ahbabi said the agency was working on a policy that “will regulate the space sector and issue a space law in the UAE”.

The UAE intends to present the policy plan to the Government this year.

Mr Al Ahbabi declined to disclose an investment figure for the Mars mission, saying “it is still at an early stage”, but he said that prices for spacecraft components have dropped.

“The space industry is much cheaper than before … technology has matured,” he said.

“There is mass production. The space components are still expensive, but have gone down from the past 10 years ago.”

The country’s combined investments in space technology have already exceeded Dh20 billion including Yahsat, Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications and Dubai Sat.

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