A United Arab Emirates spacecraft has begun its journey to Mars with a blast off in Japan, in what is the Arab world's first interplanetary mission. It will be the first time the UAE has orbited Mars, and the probe will stay in orbit for a Martian year - equivalent to 687 days on Earth - to gather data about Mars' atmosphere. The UAE says it will provide a complete view of the Martian atmosphere during different seasons for the first time.
The launch of the orbiter - named Amal, or Hope - from Tanegashima Space Center on a small southern Japanese island was initially scheduled for this past Wednesday, but was delayed due to bad weather in the region. The mission is going according to plan, officials said, as the ground team in Dubai has established communications with the probe and received its first signal transmitted to Earth.
An illustration of the Hope Mars orbiter.
The UAE has set a goal to build a human colony on Mars by 2117.
Meanwhile, the command and control centre at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) - which spearheaded the Mars project on which some 450 people worked, more than half of them Emirati - was abuzz with excitement.
Launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rover is scheduled to land on Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021.
The probe is equipped with ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers, along with a camera sensitive to optical and ultraviolet light.
The UAE is also expected to launch a mission to the Moon in 2022.
A successful mission to Mars will help UAE develop its scientific and technological capabilities and reduce its reliance on oil.
A newcomer in space development, the UAE has successfully put three Earth observation satellites into orbit.
The UAE Mars mission's deputy project manager, Sarah al-Amiri, said it was "an indescribable feeling" to witness the rocket launch. Created to check the Red planet's geology, it's equipped with six instruments including a weather station, magnetic field detector and ground-penetrating radar.
There are now eight active missions exploring Mars; some orbit the planet and some have landed on its surface.
China also has been planning to launch its own rover to Mars. Six other spacecraft are exploring the earth from orbit: a few US, two European and 1 from India.