The Emirates Mars Mission spacecraft will be a compact, hexagonal-section spacecraft. It will be built from aluminium in a stiff but lightweight honeycomb structure and surfaced with a strong composite face-sheet. Its overall size and weight are comparable to a small car: it will weigh approximately 1,500 kg including fuel, and measure 2.37m wide by 2.90m tall.
Once in space the craft will charge its batteries using three 600-watt solar panels. (For comparison, that is enough power to run around 20 laptop computers). The solar panel arrays will be folded flat against the sides of the probe for launch, and will unfold once the probe is in orbit.
The spacecraft will communicate with Mission Control on earth using a high-gain antenna with a 1.5m wide dish. This antenna will produce a narrow radio-wave beam that must point directly at Earth in order to make contact. The probe will also have low-gain antennas, which are less directional.
Communication bandwidth will drop from 1.6mbs to 250kbps as the probe journeys further from Earth (equivalent to cell-phone data speeds).
The spacecraft will be equipped with star tracker sensors that will help it to determine its position in space by studying the constellations in relation to the sun.
It will be equipped with two sets of rocket thrusters: four to six large “Delta V” thrusters which are used to speed up and slow down, and eight to 12 small Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters for delicate manoeuvring.
From time to time the spacecraft will need to reorient itself, for instance to point its solar panels at the sun, to point its antenna at Earth, or to point its scientific instruments at Mars. For this purpose it will use a set of internal reaction wheels – flywheels that are spun to create momentum that rotates the probe precisely around any axis.
The spacecraft’s brain is a computer equipped with sophisticated software that can manoeuvre it into Mars orbit autonomously without human guidance from Earth. This is important because by the time the probe reaches Mars, there will be a 13-20 minute communication delay due to the huge distance involved, and this will prevent real-time communication and control.
The spacecraft carries three scientific instruments for its mission to study the Martian atmosphere:
An Imager – a digital camera that will send back high-resolution colour images.
An Infra-Red Spectrometer – which will examine temperature patterns, ice, water vapour and dust in the atmosphere.
An Ultraviolet Spectrometer – which will study the upper atmosphere and traces of oxygen and hydrogen further out into space.
The Emirates Mars Mission probe will advance human knowledge about the atmosphere and climate on Mars, about which very little is known. This mission will produce the first truly global picture of the Martian atmosphere. It will study how the lower and upper layers of the atmosphere interact with each other. It will search for connections between today’s Martian weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet.Learn more about our scientific goals
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