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SYFY WIRE asteroids

Emirati Space Agency Planning Exploratory Road Trip Through the Asteroid Belt

What's their snack budget?

By Cassidy Ward
Asteroids, computer artwork.

Among fans of hard sci-fi, there are few stories more universally beloved than The Expanse. The series, which was adapted for television on the SYFY Channel in 2015, largely takes place in the asteroid belt. There, a group of moderately twisted humans, reshaped by their space-based environment, live out their lives pulling valuable materials from asteroids.

While asteroid mining remains a dream, catching up to and touching down on asteroids is increasingly common. Hot on the heels of a successful Mars mission, the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) is planning their next mission: a cruise through the asteroid belt with at least seven ports of call.

RELATED: Mars’ Tiny Moon Deimos Might Be A Fractured Piece Of The Red Planet Itself

The agency’s MBR Explorer, named after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, will carry cameras and scientific instruments on pre-planned route, skipping from one asteroid to the next. Launch is scheduled for some time during a three-week launch window in March 2028. Launching during that window is the only way to make sure they can hit all seven of their asteroid destinations. Unfortunately, in space, things don’t stay in the same place, and a route is only good for a limited time.

Illustration and capabilities of MBR Explorer

After launch, the MBR Explorer will spend the better part of two years in space, before reaching its first stop in February 2030.  It will be traveling roughly 20,000 miles per hour — fast enough to circumnavigate the Earth in a little more than an hour or get to the Moon in half a day — by the time it reaches the asteroid Westerwald. It won’t stick around for long, instead maintaining its velocity as it passes by five other asteroids on the way to its final stopping point.

The last step on the MBR Explorer’s cosmic road trip is the asteroid 269 Justitia. It’s a medium-sized asteroid about 30 miles (50 kilometers) in diameter, and named for the Roman goddess of Justice. The asteroid was first discovered in 1887, but astronomers recently discovered certain characteristics, namely its reddish hue, which point to a more distant origin. Justitia’s appearance is consistent with having formed beyond Neptune in the Kuiper Belt, before making its way toward center stage in the asteroid belt.

Road Trip Through Astroid Belt Mbr Explorer

MBR Explorer will spend at least seven months studying Justitia with onboard cameras and spectrometers, allowing scientists to snap close-ups and determine the asteroid’s chemical makeup. Finally, the spacecraft will deploy a small lander to touch down on 269 Justitia’s surface. All of this comes less than a decade after the UAESA was established, in 2014. The UAE may be relative latecomers to space exploration, but they’re not wasting any time getting up to speed.

In addition to the planned asteroid belt mission, the UAESA also has plans for an uncrewed lunar rover called Rashid, planned for launch in 2024.

Looking for more deep space adventures? Catch The Ark, streaming now on Peacock!