Middle East Space Roundup: 1 to 7 October 2023
A summary of all the space news in the Greater Middle East over the past week, powered by AzurX
The following are the major space developments in the Greater Middle East region tracked by Middle East Space Monitor over the past week:
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Baku, Capital City of Azerbaijan, Hosts 74th International Astronautical Congress
Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, hosts the 74th International Astronautical Congress (IAC). The event featured a welcoming speech by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and various optimistic announcements on the future trajectory of Azerbaijani space ambitions and its space agency Azercosmos. All of the major space powers such as the United States, Russia, China, India, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom, among many others, attended and participated in the event. Given Baku’s geographical proximity the 2023 IAC also saw significant participation by the Israeli space agency and satellite industry (see stories below) as well as by prominent regional space agencies such as the Saudi Space Agency, the UAE Space Agency, and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). The 2023 IAC closed off with Azerbaijani space officials handing over the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) flag to Italian officials in preparation for the 75th IAC to be held in Milan, Italy, in October 2024.
Oman Hosts NASA Space Apps Hackathon
In collaboration with NASA, Oman, represented by the University of Technology and Applied Sciences Ibra, hosted the NASA Space Apps Hackathon from 7 to 8 October 2023 in the wilayat of Bidiya, North Sharqiyah. This global event anticipates participation from 185 countries and aims to engage innovators interested in space science and exploration. Participants will have the opportunity to devise creative solutions for various challenges related to Earth and space, with the chance to qualify for the NASA Space App International Hackathon. In hosting this event, Oman aims to strengthen its position as a hub for technological innovation and research while fostering collaboration between local and international academic and industrial institutions.
Serco Partners with Starburst to Accelerate Space Startups in the UAE
Serco has partnered with Starburst, a renowned aerospace accelerator, to drive innovation in the UAE's space industry and support global space ecosystems. Building on a successful European collaboration, this partnership aims to assist the UAE government in achieving its goals in the new space economy. It will support startups in the sector by granting them access to international projects, accelerating business development, and ensuring Serco clients have access to cutting-edge innovations. The collaboration is expected to complement both companies' space portfolios and contribute to the UAE's space exploration objectives. It also reflects Serco's commitment to positively impacting the space industry's future and supporting the growth of local capabilities and skills in the Middle East's emerging space market.
Türkiye Mulls its Own LEO Satellite Communications Constellation
Türkiye is planning to produce its own low-Earth orbit satellite communications system as it negotiates with Starlink, owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to provide services in the country. Ali Taha Koc, President of the Digital Transformation Office of the Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye, expressed the country's desire to develop its low-Earth orbit system locally, emphasising the importance of having a presence in both high and low-earth orbits. Tesla Turkey's CEO, Kemal Geçer, will also serve as the CEO of Starlink Turkey, indicating Elon Musk's growing interest in the country following discussions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Musk expressed his excitement about attending the Teknofest Aerospace and Technology Festival and discussing investment opportunities in Türkiye in the future.
Azerbaijani Politician Calls for Satellite Support to Clear Landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh
Azerbaijani MP Vugar Bayramov has called for the use of space technologies to expedite landmine clearance efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where returning displaced Azerbaijanis are facing the threat of landmines. He stressed the importance of using space technology for humanitarian purposes, citing the significant number of casualties due to landmines in the area. Azerbaijan has been conducting operations to clear the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of landmines and unexploded ordnance left by separatist Armenians. The plea for international support and the use of space technology comes as the country faces the complex task of post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation.
UAE-Led Multinational Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe Team Wins International Award
The Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe team has been awarded the 2023 Laurels for Team Achievement Award by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) during the 74th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2023) in Baku, Azerbaijan. This recognition comes as a result of the Hope Probe's significant contributions to Mars research, including the creation of a comprehensive map of Mars' atmosphere and unprecedented observations of the moon Deimos. The Hope Probe was a collaborative effort involving teams from the UAE's Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, Arizona State University, and the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as scientists from the U.S., Europe, and the UAE. The IAA's award acknowledges the exceptional international collaboration and transformative impact of this interplanetary mission.
Azerbaijan Contemplates Moon and Mars Space Exploration Missions, Invited by Japan to Participate in Artemis Missions
Azerbaijan is contemplating ambitious space missions to the Moon and Mars in 2030, as announced by Samaddin Asadov, Chairman of the Management Board of Azercosmos, during his address at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku. He highlighted Azerbaijan's significant investment of $600 million in space capabilities over the past decade and emphasised the country's commitment to its space programme. As part of its future plans, Azerbaijan intends to launch a communications satellite to expand regional services. These announcements underscore Azerbaijan's growing interest and engagement in space exploration and technology. Meanwhile, Hiroshi Yamakawa, President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), announced that 29 countries have joined the Artemis mission, which aims to study the surface of the Moon. He expressed Japan's willingness to support Azerbaijan's participation in this project during a NASA press conference at the IAC. Yamakawa highlighted the cooperation between JAXA and Azercosmos and mentioned their readiness to share information on both the first and second stages of the Artemis project.
Iranian Authorities Arrest Five People Suspected of Smuggling Starlink Terminals into Iran
Iranian authorities have arrested five individuals in Zahedan, a southeastern city in Iran, on suspicion of smuggling Starlink satellite internet equipment to an undisclosed group. Semi-official media sources, including the Tasnim News Agency with close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported the arrests on 2 October 2023. The operation was allegedly coordinated by an "espionage organisation" in collaboration with the exiled opposition People's Mujahedin Organisation, although no concrete evidence was provided to substantiate these claims. Starlink, a satellite internet service by SpaceX, has been used by Iranians to circumvent government-imposed restrictions on internet access. In December 2022, Elon Musk announced that SpaceX had nearly 100 active Starlink satellites in Iran as authorities tightened internet controls during nationwide protests.
Crown Prince Dubai Announces MBRSC Future Space Missions
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai, reaffirmed the commitment of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) to realize the UAE's vision of elevating the Arab region's status in the global space industry through ambitious projects that will benefit humanity. During a meeting of the MBRSC Board of Directors, he discussed the centre's ambitious missions and future programmes that include the launch of the most advanced Earth observation satellite in the region in 2024, named after UAE President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan - MBZSat - and Emirati astronauts Mohammed Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi will be ready for "trailblazing space missions" after their graduation from astronaut training also in 2024. Sheikh Hamdan emphasised the UAE's rapidly advancing space sector, which is set to become a significant global contributor, drawing on expertise, knowledge, and strategic partnerships. The MBRSC has achieved numerous milestones, including the successful longest-Arab space mission, ongoing astronaut training, advanced satellite projects, and Moon exploration missions.
Arabsat Introduces New Content Distribution Platform for Satellite TV Channels
Arabsat, the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation headquartered in Saudi Arabia, has introduced the Contribution Platform, a new broadcasting platform designed to facilitate the global distribution of TV channels' content. Compatible with all video formats and networks, this platform enables TV channels and channel groups to transmit content from their studios to any location worldwide. Arabsat aims to "revolutionize the broadcasting landscape" by eliminating traditional barriers and providing seamless content delivery to global audiences. The company has also announced partnerships with TVU Networks and Zixi, two technology providers focused on high-quality content distribution over IP networks, to enhance the capabilities of the platform and ensure a high-quality content distribution experience for customers.
President of Turkish Space Agency Lays Out Ten-Year Plan, Mulls Cooperation with China and Joining International Lunar Research Station Project
Serdar Hüseyin Yildirim, Chairman of the Board and President of the Turkish Space Agency, discussed Türkiye's ambitious 10-year space programme and international cooperation in space exploration during an interview at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan. Yildirim expressed the significance of the event as a platform for global collaboration within the space sector, bringing together academia, private sectors, government institutions, and space agencies. Türkiye's space programme includes ten major goals over the next decade, with a flagship Moon research programme aiming to reach the lunar surface by 2026 and plans for an astronaut programme to send Turkish astronauts to the ISS. Yildirim also mentioned potential collaboration between Türkiye and China, particularly in projects like the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) and space education, as well as cooperation in fields such as Earth observation, remote sensing, and disaster management.
Azerbaijan and Israel Finalise Deal for Two High-Resolution Earth Observation Satellites
Israel’s Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Azerbaijan's space agency, Azercosmos, have entered into a cooperation agreement involving the sale of two advanced IAI satellites, reportedly the OptSat500 reconnaissance satellites valued at $120 million. These satellites offer high-resolution imaging capabilities of better than 0.5 meters and extended operational lifespans. The two-satellite system is to be called Azersky-2. The agreement also encompasses technology transfer and knowledge sharing for satellite construction and operations. Furthermore, it involves the establishment of innovation and entrepreneurship centres in the space sector, academic programmes in space-related fields, and a joint business centre. IAI will provide ground control and operation systems for the Azersky-2 system, satellite management, image processing training, and the launch of the satellites in 2026 and 2028 respectively. The choice of launch vehicle will be disclosed in the coming months, further enhancing the space cooperation between the two countries. The deal follows revelations that Israel has provided significant intelligence support, including satellite imagery, to Azerbaijan for its military operations against ethnic Armenian separatists in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Russia Invites Türkiye, Others, to Participate in Russian Orbital Station Project, Targets Middle East Countries for Satellite Sales
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has extended an invitation to Türkiye, and the space agencies of Brazil and South Africa, to participate in the Russian Orbital Station (ROS) project, and discussions with delegations from these countries have shown genuine interest in collaboration. Roscosmos Director General Yury Borisov announced this proposal at the International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan. The cooperation discussions include potential joint projects for the peaceful use of space, such as the development and utilisation of remote sensing satellites employing optical and radar equipment. These satellites have applications in various sectors, including agriculture, natural resource management, disaster monitoring, and response. This initiative reflects Russia's efforts to expand international collaboration in space exploration and technology development with a focus on Middle East countries.
Iran Provides Updates on Satellite Projects, Claims Work on First SAR Erath Observation Satellite has Begun
The head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), Hossein Salariyeh, has provided an update on Iran's space activities, stating that construction of the Pars-2 remote sensing satellite has begun. Additionally, Iran is set to launch a bio-capsule into space by March 2024. Salariyeh highlighted the ongoing development of micro-satellites and mini-satellites, with the Pars-3 remote sensing satellite currently in the preliminary design phase. The prototype of the Nahid-2 communications satellite has been unveiled, and the final model for launch is nearing completion. Plans for Nahid-3, a more advanced communication satellite, are in progress. Iran has also initiated the construction of its first synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellite, which can collect data from the Earth's surface in various weather conditions with a resolution of 30 meters. Despite Western sanctions, Iran continues to make advancements in its civilian space programme, ranking among the top 10 countries capable of satellite development and launch.
UAE’s MBRSC Announces Second Payload Hosting Initiative Mission
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai, announced the development of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre’s (MBRSC) PHI-2 satellite in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to support entities and countries aspiring to enter the space sector. This initiative, part of the "Access to Space for All" program, aims to provide opportunities for sending innovations and technologies into space via the PHI-2 satellite, supporting scientific and knowledge advancement. The Payload Hosting Initiative (PHI), launched last year, facilitates the hosting of payloads on MBRSC's satellite platform to demonstrate new technologies and promote space science and technology in developing countries. It aligns with UN Sustainable Development Goals and ensures broader participation in space exploration and sustainable development.
Saudi Arabia’s Astronaut Mission to the ISS Sees Scientific Return on Investment
Saudi Arabia's historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with astronauts Ali al Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi is already producing valuable data for life on Earth. During their week-long mission, the astronauts conducted over 20 experiments, including cloud seeding to develop weather control technology for generating artificial rain on the Moon and Mars, studying stem cells to predict and prevent cancer, and exploring the impact of microgravity on producing stem cells for regenerative medicine. This mission, part of the "Access to Space for All" initiative in collaboration with the United Nations, marks Saudi Arabia's strong commitment to advancing space science and technology and inspiring future generations to pursue STEM education and research.
Azerbaijan Signs Space Cooperation Agreements with Israel, Other Countries, and International Organisations
Azerbaijan and Israel have signed their first cooperation agreement in the field of space at the 74th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Baku, Azerbaijan. This agreement paves the way for collaborative projects in various space-related domains, including the development of space technologies, satellites, space exploration systems like robotics, Earth observation, and more. Israel's Minister of Innovation, Science, and Technology, Ofir Akunis, noted the agreement's significance for Israel's science, innovation, and space industry, emphasising its economic and political implications. The Israel Space Agency director, Uri Oron, highlighted the importance of such collaborations in the rapidly growing field of space. This partnership is expected to deepen and expand the relationship between the two countries into new technological areas. Additionally, during the IAC in Baku, Azerbaijan signed space cooperation agreements with, among others, Brazil, the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation (APSCO), and the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ICESCO).
UAE’s Yahsat Prepares to Offer Expanded Services with Launch of Thuraya-4 NGS SATCOM
Yahsat, the UAE’s premier commercial satellite communications operator, is preparing to offer new services and applications, including telemedicine, once its Thuraya-4 Next Generation Satellite (NGS) is launched in 2025. The company also plans to double the number of oil rigs it currently provides satellite connectivity to in the coming years. The Thuraya-4 satellite will offer a versatile platform with over 20 applications, particularly for the maritime, government, and Internet of Things (IoT) segments. Yahsat reported a 5% increase in first-half income in 2023, with a focus on expanding its commercial lines of business, including oil and gas, health and education, and maritime. The company is also looking to partner with others in the market for emerging opportunities in IoT, direct-to-device communication, and Earth observation. Yahsat expects revenue growth of above 5% for the year and is gearing up for a high growth trajectory.
Arabsat’s Rebranding Signals Organisation’s Shift in Regional SATCOM Marketplace
Arabsat, the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation headquartered in Saudi Arabia, has unveiled a new brand identity, signaling its strategic direction and vision to become a guiding force in shaping the future, amplifying communication values, and fostering unity among nations. The organisation's new identity was revealed during an event at its Riyadh headquarters, attended by industry experts, arts and media figures, and representatives from media outlets, satellite networks, and radio stations. Arabsat is aiming to optimise its role in the global satellite communication arena, with a focus on driving transformation and exploring new opportunities. This rebranding aligns with Arabsat's recent contributions to space communications, including the launch of Badr-8, the Middle East's first seventh-generation communications satellite, offering television broadcasting and communication services across multiple regions.
Turkish City of Antalya to Host 2026 International Astronautical Congress
Antalya, the resort city on Türkiye's Mediterranean coast, has been chosen to host the 77th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in 2026, as announced by Türkiye's Industry and Technology Minister, Mehmet Fatih Kacır. This significant event is expected to bring together over 10,000 participants from more than 70 countries, making it the largest international scientific gathering ever held in Türkiye. Hosting the IAC is a testament to Türkiye's growing presence and stature in the global space community. Turkish Space Agency (TUA) President Serdar Hüseyin Yıldırım expressed his satisfaction with this decision, noting that it would elevate Türkiye's position in the world of space exploration, with participants ranging from space agencies to industry leaders, governmental bodies, NGOs, and academic institutions.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
The foreign ministers of the UAE and Brazil met in Brasilia and discussed strengthening the strategic ties between the two countries including in the space sector;
The commerce ministers of the UAE and India met in Abu Dhabi and signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) to strengthen collaboration across a number of strategic technology areas including space;
Expressing concerns regarding the departure of tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians from the Nagorno Karabakh region, the Canadian Space Agency did not participate in the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) held in Baku, Azerbaijan, this past week;
Space officials from Saudi Arabia visited satellite companies in South Korea last week and explored possible avenues for cooperation and collaboration.
Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE Joining BRICS Has Implications for Global Space Governance
Laura Delgado López, a NASA official writing for U.S. think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), argues that the expansion of the BRICS bloc to include 11 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates, may have significant implications for space governance. While these countries have varying levels of economic development, they share ambitions in space exploration. This expansion could influence discussions on space governance, particularly in international forums like the United Nations. As space becomes more congested and contested, new rules and norms are needed to ensure responsible space activities. While China and Russia tend to align on space governance discussions, the BRICS+ expansion may not result in a simple North-South divide, with some member countries showing alignment with Western space norms. This shift in coalitions could have tangible consequences for space governance debates, making it crucial for the United States and its allies to actively implement space diplomacy frameworks and engage with potential partners on space governance issues.
Be sure to catch up with space activities in the region in the next edition of Middle East Space Monitor’s space roundup!
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