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The United Arab Emirates says it’s on track to go to Mars within three years

David Reid
The country only formed its space agency in 2014.

It sounds like a challenge of galactic proportions.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) says that despite its space agency only being three years old, it remains on track to launch a probe to Mars by 2020.

The Hope probe would touch down on the red planet by 2021, in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of when seven emirates came together to form the UAE.

Speaking at the Dubai Airshow Tuesday, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, Mohammed Al Ahbabi said the first ever Arabic and Islamic space mission was intended to educate and inspire.

"We have national objectives to inspire young people and provide confidence in our people, to show it is possible," Al Ahbabi said.

"But also to team up with the international science community and gain from a technology transfer."

The director general said that despite political difficulties in the region the program remains on time and within budget.

Once launched the probe would travel around 40 million miles over nine months before touching down to study the Martian atmosphere and climate.

The UAE space agency, which backs the mission, was formed in July 2014 and has secured a reported $5.2 billion in public and private support.

Al Ahbabi said the UAE was working with the support of more than 20 space agencies around the world and he predicted that the only three outstanding agencies would come on board next year.

"So many people are coming to the UAE to express admiration for what we are trying to do," he said.

The Middle East is viewed as a good location for a launch pad as it enjoys mild weather, has open desert spaces and being near the equator, requires less thrust to get missiles into orbit.

Al Ahbabi added that the UAE space program would help resurrect a lost Arabic trait of understanding the galaxy.

"This region, 600 or 700 years ago was the base of astronomy. Two-thirds of the stars that we can see with our naked eyes have Arabic or Islamic names," he said.

"Unfortunately there was decline but now through this big project we want to send a message to the people that it is still possible to study space."