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The UAE's Mars space probe was launched from Japan in July 2020.

Why has the UAE chosen, specifically, Japan for launching its Mars space probe?

There are many governments and private companies around the world that run space programs and provide commercial space launch services. E.g. SpaceX, Sea launch, NASA, China, India, Russia, and so on. I am curious why they have chosen Japan's JAXA.

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  • I feel that this belongs to Politics, since UAE as a state (not a private company?) made this decision, but you should provide a little more context. This article suggests "[UAE] (..) seeking to move away from a reliance on oil and further develop local expertise in science and technology." which can be considered a political decision.
    – Alexei
    Jul 20, 2020 at 10:47
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    @Alexei, there are many countries and private companies around the world that run space programs and commercial space launches. E.g. SpaceX, Sealaunch, NASA, China, India, Russia, and so on. I am curious why they have chosen Japan.
    – user366312
    Jul 20, 2020 at 10:51
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    @Alexei IMHO this is more a question for space. Jul 20, 2020 at 11:21
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    It's likely a commercial decision, but we aren't privy to this kind of commercial information. If they had chosen SpaceX or Russia (for example) would you be asking the same question. They had to choose a launch provider, why not JAXA?
    – James K
    Jul 20, 2020 at 19:49
  • I see a huge chance that they had a political reason for this decision. Japan has still a high tech fame, but their space exploration is clearly not on the USA/Russia level. But possibly it was only a cost decision - but that it was not a political motivation, is also a qualified answer.
    – Gray Sheep
    Oct 8, 2023 at 9:29

3 Answers 3

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UAE's space policy is interesting. Since they are a nascent player in the space industry, they have decided on acquiring knowledge through economic and scientific collaboration. Towards this goal, they don't mind working with foreign private players or government space agencies.

In contrast to the autarkic path followed by other nations, and in accordance with the recommendations of their engineers and scientists, the Emirati authorities have decided to reach the moon in the easiest and quickest way possible. To achieve this, they will use an American launcher and a Japanese commercial spacecraft already available ... They are investing huge resources to reorient the country from an economy based on oil extraction to a more technologically advanced goal. They want Emirates to be a preferred partner of space agencies from the United States, Russia, China, India, Japan and Europe in preparing for future manned missions to the surface of Mars from the Moon. - Emirates is partnering with a private company from Japan to touch down on the moon in 2022

It however doesn't mean that they are just throwing their oil money and buying technology from anyone who offers.

Progressing from Earth-orbiting satellites to a deep-space mission in six years is “incredible”, says Brett Landin, an engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder, who leads the mission’s spacecraft team. The UAE hired the US engineer in an unusual partnership in which the Colorado team provided both mentoring and construction expertise. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” says Landin.

... Sharaf, then one of the country’s few satellite engineers, got a call directly from the UAE’s vice-president and prime minister, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, asking if the country could go to Mars by 2021 ... A Mars mission is many times more complex than parking a satellite into a low-Earth orbit, Al Amiri says, and historically around half of the trips to the red planet have failed ... To do it, the country tapped into foreign expertise, using a model that had shown success before. In 2007, the UAE had hired South Korean firm Satrec Initiative to design and build its first satellites, with the understanding that the company would also train Emirati engineers. By 2018, the UAE was able to launch a satellite designed and built entirely at home.

Applying the same process to the Mars mission, the UAE hired old hands from NASA missions, mainly at the University of Colorado Boulder, to work alongside them and provide training in how to send a probe to another planet ... Sharaf was told by his superiors to “build it, not buy it”, to create skills within the UAE itself. So under Sharaf’s leadership, US and Emirati engineers worked together on every part of the mission’s development, from design to manufacture, with work taking place largely in Boulder, but also at the MBRSC.

For its science goals, the UAE went to the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, a NASA-led international forum that agrees on gaps in knowledge to tackle in future Mars missions. - How a small Arab nation built a Mars mission from scratch in six years

According to UAE's GulfNews, the Mars mission "involved collaboration with scientists and engineers from several countries, including the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom." Their Lunar mission is another international collaboration that aimed to launch a rover to the moon, with a moon lander designed by a Japanese startup, Ispace, and launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on an American SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

So it is not as if the UAE is bound to the Japanese with some exclusive agreement - the available public information highlights that the UAE is working with everyone in the west, and it's allies, South Korea and Japan in Asia.

But note that Japan has also recently revived its Space program and has ambitious goals. The Japanese have also been seeking investments from UAE (the UAE has a huge sovereign fund). Thus, it is likely that Japan offers the UAE better terms when collaborating with them on their space programs and thus there are more avenues for closer collaboration between the two countries.

Japan has contributed to the UAE's space policy for many years. The launch of the UAE's first domestically-manufactured satellite KhalifaSat in 2018 and the Mars Exploration Hope Probe in 2020 were both carried out by Japanese H2-A rockets. The launch of the UAE’s lunar probe Rashid Rover this April, operated in collaboration with Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) and Japanese space startup company, ispace, was a significant step forward as the world’s first attempt by a private company to land a moon-surface rover. I am confident that future-oriented efforts such as this will lead to a greater success in the near future. Japan is determined to continue its support for further collaboration in the space field. - Towards the Next 50 Years between Japan and UAE.

The Russians have a slightly different perspective on this though.

They believe that the US is working behind the scene to foster these collaborations with UAE, so that the US can lock it down with western technologies and also try to upgrade its relationships with UAE in the middle-east to the level that it has with South Korea and Japan in Asia. This can, in the long-term, counter the influence of the Chinese and the Russians in the Middle East.

The director general of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), General Yuri Borisov, has just concluded his three-day tour of the United Arab Emirates. He came to the Gulf country with a large representation of senior Kremlin space officials in order to rebalance as far as possible the considerable influence that Washington exerts over Emirati organisations and the growing Emirati industrial fabric. - Russia seeks closer space cooperation with Emirates to rebalance US influence

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The UAE's relationship with Japan is mainly for exporting crude oil and natural gas and importing Cars and heavy mechanical parts, electronics and equipment. Not much apart from that. Maybe because of the huge language barrier.

Thinking the UAE Way, UAE loves Cars LoL.

Okay so, apart from this:

They would have thought of making good technological relationship with some Asian country and Japan suited them the most. Factors which might have played important role are the following according to me:

Japan has neutral/peaceful secular political relation with other countries so far, so improving relationship with Japan seemed logical.

In long term, since it is not going to get involved into any political twists and turns, the trade(resulting from good relations) will be stable.

Japan has good tech infrastructure which might be helpful to UAE in future to move its economy off the oil.

Also Japan's JAXA is new and is keen for opportunities - this one from UAE will bring about good relationship & trusting capabilites of JAXA is evident from Japanese work culture.

Opting for private companies is no-where in the list. It will be better if you ask - Why UAE did not opt for country X over Japan.

With other countries, the UAE already has good relations so far. And it was the good time to give JAXA the work since they needed one, instead of giving it to someone which reaps out nothing as compared to Japan. Building new relationships are always favourable if possible without harming current ones.

After oil ends their economy will be based mainly on relationships so more the number (of relationship hands) better the success rate and lower the risk.

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    Regarding your first paragraph, you might want to check out the trade statistics between Japan and Saudi Arabia. What you write is not completely wrong, but also not 100% correct either.
    – Philipp
    Jul 20, 2020 at 22:18
  • Added some more imp/export materials
    – daemon
    Jul 20, 2020 at 22:24
  • {citation needed] Jul 20, 2020 at 23:02
  • citation is my brain and daily experience
    – daemon
    Jul 21, 2020 at 10:45
  • D/V as this answer is completely opinion with no supporting sources
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 6, 2023 at 15:31
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Cooperation with Japan on this is not entirely coincidental (especially given their past history of launches from Japan--as detailed in another answer), but their space program, in particular the Mars mission was also not exclusively in cooperation with Japan:

The spacecraft was assembled in the United States at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) by the Emirati engineers, assisted by their American counterparts, with support from Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of California, Berkeley.

And other UAE missions launched from the US:

11 Dec 2022

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first lunar rover successfully took off today from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The UAE rover was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 02:38 local time as part of a UAE–Japan mission to the Moon.

(In that mission the rover was build by the UAE and the lander by a Japanese company.)

In part, this question is probably better answered on Space SE, but I think the difference in choice of site & launcher had something to do with throw weight. The Mars mission was a 1.3 ton object. The moon one, 10 kgs--it was a very small rover.

Likewise, the UAE sent an astronaut to the ISS before, and Japan played no role in that AFAICT.

Japan was also very interested in cooperating on a Mars mission. They apparently had not had a [truly] successful one till then/now; see Nozomi, which went on the wrong orbit some decades ago. Japan is planning their own Mars rover for 2025 or so. In fact, this has been a long-delayed project--work began circa 2008. And Japan also plans a Mars moons project for next year. So gaining experience with more Mars missions, albeit in cooperation with others, was surely something desirable for them.

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