UAE to Send Probe on 5-Year Journey to Land On, Study Asteroid

The United Arab Emirates plans to send a probe on a five-year journey to land on and collect data from an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, the Associated Press reported. The UAE announced the ambitious mission Tuesday, the newest goal in the Middle Eastern country's space program.

The UAE is planning to launch the probe in 2028 and have it travel 2.2 billion miles before landing on the asteroid in 2033. In order to gain enough speed to reach the asteroid about 350 million miles away, the spacecraft would need to travel around Venus and then Earth, the AP reported.

If the country successfully lands the probe on the asteroid, it would stay there as long as its batteries remain charged, sending information back to Earth on the astronomical object's composition. An executed landing would also add the UAE to a coveted list of countries and blocs, including the U.S., Japan and European Union, that have successfully landed a probe on an asteroid or comet, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

UAE Asteroid Probe
The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, announced plans to send a probe to land on an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter to collect data on the origins of the universe, the latest project in the oil-rich federation's ambitious space program. Sarah Al Amiri, Emirati Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission speaks ahead of a live broadcast of the Hope Probe as it attempts to enter Mars orbit as a part of Emirates Mars mission, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 9, 2021. Kamran Jebreili/AP Photo

It's still under discussion what data the Emirates will collect but the mission will be an even greater challenge that previous ones, given the spacecraft will travel both near the sun and far from it, said Sarah al-Amiri, the chair of the UAE Space Agency and a minister of state for advanced technology.

"Because this comes on the back of the Emirates Mars mission, it is several factors harder, rather than exponentially harder," al-Amiri told The Associated Press. "If we went to get this mission done from the get-go without having the background that we currently have from the Emirates Mars mission, it will be very difficult to achieve."

Some 1.1 million known asteroids circulate in the solar system, the remnants of its formation, according to NASA. Most orbit the sun in the area between Mars and Jupiter targeted by the planned Emirati mission. Their composition includes the building blocks of the world we now know.

The UAE's Space Agency said it will partner with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado on the project. It declined to immediately offer a cost for the effort or describe what particular features of the asteroid it wanted to study. Al-Amiri said discussions are ongoing about what equipment the spacecraft will carry, which will in turn affect what features it can observe.

The project comes after the Emirates successfully put its Amal, or "Hope," probe in orbit around Mars in February. The car-size Amal cost $200 million to build and launch. That excludes operating costs at Mars. The asteroid mission likely would be more expensive, given its challenges.

The Emirates plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2024. The country, which is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, also has set the ambitious goal to build a human colony on Mars by 2117 — but its more immediate goal is building out both a private and state-backed space economy with its projects.

"It is difficult. It is challenging," al-Amiri said of the asteroid project. "We fully understand and comprehend that, but we understand the benefits of taking on such large, challenging programs and projects."

UAE Space Program
The United Arab Emirates announced its ambitious mission Tuesday to send a probe to an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, the newest goal in the Middle Eastern country’s ambitious space program. An employee works in a control room at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), a Dubai government organization working on the UAE space program. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images