DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will launch a spacecraft to explore a major asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, officials said Tuesday, after a UAE probe reached the red planet early this year.
The five-year journey from 2028 will traverse 3.6 billion kilometres (2.2 billion miles), with the unmanned craft drawing on gravity assists from Earth and Venus to reach the main asteroid belt beyond Mars, officials said.
"The mission will make its first close planetary approach orbiting Venus in mid-2028, followed by a close orbit of Earth in mid-2029," the UAE Space Agency said in a statement.
"It will make its first fly-by of a main asteroid belt object in 2030, going on to observe a total of seven main belt asteroids before its final landing on an asteroid 560 million kilometres from Earth in 2033."
The UAE -- made up of seven emirates including the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai -- is a newcomer to the world of space exploration.
In September 2019, the oil-rich country sent the first Emirati into space as part of a three-member crew that blasted off on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan.
Then in February 2021 its "Hope" probe successfully entered Mars' orbit on a journey to reveal the secrets of Martian weather, in the Arab world's first interplanetary mission.
The UAE also has plans to send an unmanned rover to the moon by 2024.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE's de facto leader, said that the launch of the new project sets an "ambitious" new goal for the country.
"The UAE is determined to make a meaningful contribution to space exploration, scientific research and our understanding of the solar system," he tweeted.