Some 1.1 million known asteroids circulate in the solar system, the remnants of its formation, according to NASA. Most orbit the sun in the area between Mars and Jupiter targeted by the planned Emirati mission. Their composition includes the building blocks of the world we now know.
The UAE's Space Agency said it will partner with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado on the project. It declined to immediately offer a cost for the effort or describe what particular features of the asteroid it wanted to study. Al-Amiri said discussions are ongoing about what equipment the spacecraft will carry, which will in turn affect what features it can observe.
The project comes after the Emirates successfully put its Amal, or "Hope," probe in orbit around Mars in February. The car-size Amal cost $200 million to build and launch. That excludes operating costs at Mars. The asteroid mission likely would be more expensive, given its challenges.
The Emirates plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2024. The country, which is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, also has set the ambitious goal to build a human colony on Mars by 2117 — but its more immediate goal is building out both a private and state-backed space economy with its projects.
“It is difficult. It is challenging," al-Amiri said of the asteroid project. "We fully understand and comprehend that, but we understand the benefits of taking on such large, challenging programs and projects.”
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