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Mars ahead! UAE's Hope spacecraft spots Red Planet for 1st time

An image of Mars taken by the star tracker on the UAE's Hope mission, which will arrive at the Red Planet in February.
An image of Mars taken by the star tracker on the UAE's Hope mission, which will arrive at the Red Planet in February.
(Image: © MBRSC)

The United Arab Emirates' first-ever interplanetary mission is well on its way to Mars and has the photos to prove it.

The UAE's Hope probe launched from Japan toward Mars on July 19, representing the first time an Arab nation has gone beyond Earth's orbit. Now, the spacecraft is already one fifth of the way through its long journey, according to a statement from the program.

"The Hope probe is officially 100 million km [60 million miles] into its journey to the Red Planet," Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE, wrote on Twitter on Monday (Aug. 24). "Mars, as demonstrated in the image captured by the probe's star tracker, is ahead of us, leaving Saturn and Jupiter behind. The Hope probe is expected to arrive to Mars in February 2021."

Related: The United Arab Emirates' Hope mission to Mars in photos

The star tracker is designed to keep Hope on course, telling the spacecraft precisely where it is. In addition, the probe carries a more traditional camera for use once it arrives at Mars and begins its science work.

Between launch and arrival, the Hope team expects the spacecraft will need to perform about a half dozen trajectory correction maneuvers to finetune its path toward the Red Planet. The first of those took place earlier this month.

Jupiter and Saturn loom in Hope's rearview mirror as the probe heads toward Mars.  (Image credit: MBRSC)

"We have accomplished our first trajectory correction maneuver, which was the first test of Mars Hope's propulsion and trajectory control systems, as well as the first time the spacecraft's six Delta-V thrusters have been activated," Omran Sharaf, project director for the mission, said in a statement. "That 21-second burn put us firmly on track toward Mars. We're delighted with the performance of Mars Hope so far."

Once Hope arrives safely in orbit around Mars, the spacecraft will set about studying the Red Planet's climate and atmosphere for at least one local year (nearly two Earth years).

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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