A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Dec. 11 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, carrying the first-ever Arab-built lunar spacecraft into space.
The Rashid Rover was built by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and is delivered by the HAKUTO-R lander, designed by Japanese lunar exploration company ispace. If the landing is successful, HAKUTO-R will also become the first commercial spacecraft to perform a controlled landing on the moon.
The mission is taking a low-energy route to the moon and is expected to arrive around April 2023. Once there, the rover will spend one lunar day (equivalent to 14.75 days on Earth) on the surface conducting its main operations. He will spend a second lunar day conducting secondary operations, to test whether the rover will survive the moon’s harsh nighttime environment, before dismantling.
Scheduled to land in the Atlas crater in the northeastern part of the moon, the rover was designed to withstand the lunar night, when temperatures can reach -183°C or -297.4°F.
The Rashid Rover, named after the late Sheikh Rashid Al Saeed, the former ruler of Dubai, will analyze plasma on the lunar surface and conduct experiments to learn more about lunar dust. Razor-sharp lunar dust particles can stick and erode space suits and equipment, causing operational problems for astronauts.
The rover will be entirely solar-powered and equipped with four cameras, including one microscopic and one thermal.
The launch comes shortly after that of NASA’s Artemis I lunar mission and marks the first step in the UAE’s ambitious lunar exploration program. The Gulf state plans to send multiple vehicles, including rovers and orbiters, to the moon, with a second rover slated for launch as early as 2025.
Construction of the 10kg four-wheeled Rashid Rover began in 2017 at MBRSC. It was designed by an all-Emirati team. “The team did a great job getting the mission started and designing it,” Hamad Al Marzooqi, Emirates Lunar Mission Project Manager at MBRSC, told CNN.
The MBRSC is also using the mission to fuel ambitious plans for a Mars colony. He hopes to build the first human settlement on the Red Planet by 2117. Al Marzooqi hopes the mission to the lunar surface will be a stepping stone to Mars.
“We’re starting small,” he says, “but we hope that this small step will eventually be the starting point for achieving our goals.”