Middle East Space Roundup: 12-18 February 2023
A summary of all the space news in the Greater Middle East over the past week
Rayyanah Barnawi (centre left) and Ali Al Qarni (centre right), Saudi Arabia’s first astronauts sine 1985. Mariam Fardous (left) and Ali Al Gamdi (right) are the backup astronauts. Photograph courtesy of the Saudi Space Commission.
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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12 February 2023
For the first time since 1985, Saudi Arabia will send astronauts to Earth orbit in the next few months. The Saudi Space Commission announced that Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni will be launched on board Axion Space’s AX-2 four-crew mission to the International Space Station in the second quarter of 2023. Rayyanah Barnawi’s sojourn in space will be historic as she will be the first Arab and Saudi woman to go to space. The two Saudi astronauts’ ten-day mission on board the ISS will coincide with the six-month ISS mission of UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, resulting in three Arab astronauts being on board the ISS at the same time. Prince Sultan Bin Salman, son of the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was Saudi Arabia’s first ever astronaut when he was a Mission Payload Specialist on board the Space Shuttle Discovery in June 1985. The selection of the latest Saudi astronauts marks the beginning of the Kingdom’s human spaceflight programme that is intended to culminate, per what are understood to be Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s aspirations, in Saudi astronauts on the moon by 2030 and on Mars in the 2040s.
13 February 2023
Arabsat signs cooperative agreement with French satellite-enabled Internet of Things company Kineis. The agreement opens the door for Arabsat to distribute Kineis’ services and products in the Middle East and North Africa, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania targeted as priorities.
14 February 2023
A senior UAE space official calls on large space powers to be more open in sharing technologies and know-how with emerging space powers. Omran Sharif, the UAE’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation for Advanced Science and Technology, told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai that large space powers should not just sell capabilities but should also “share knowledge openly” with smaller and emerging space powers. Sharif went on to say that, “If I'm an emerging space nation that doesn't have, let's say, a system that's able to de-orbit, don't come and force me, corner me and ask me to buy the operating system…It will limit my innovation. Share with me the knowledge, tell me how to build it.” Sharif is the current chair of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
A senior U.S. general claims that Chinese spy balloons have transited sovereign airspaces in the Middle East over the past several years. Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, U.S. Air Force, Commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces (9th Air Force/Air Forces Central), claims that his forces have tracked several Chinese surveillance balloons transiting the Middle East, although they have not come anywhere near sensitive U.S. installations in the region. Meanwhile, experts in Israel claims it has the means to intercept such balloons in the future.
15 February 2023
The Israel Space Agency is participating in the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission that will explore Jupiter’s Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede moons through the contribution of an Ultra Stable Quartz Oscillator (USO) instrument as part of the spacecraft’s scientific payload as well as a team of Israeli scientists assisting in the planning of the mission’s orbits. JUICE is scheduled to be launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guyana on 13 April 2023.
Yahsat, the UAE’s commercial satellite communications company, signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) on Earth observation. The agreement sees Yahsat expand its Yahsat Government Solutions subsidiary into the commercial distribution of satellite imagery from MBRSC high-resolution Earth observation satellites - DubaiSat-1, DubaiSat-2, KhalifaSat, and once it is launched in 2024, MBZ-SAT. Yahsat Government Solutions will sell and distribute imagery to its commercial and government clients.
Oman’s Aman Earth observation satellite failed to reach orbit due to a dislodged fuel filter in the Virgin Orbit’s launcher on 9 January 2023. According to Virgin Orbit, “The data is indicating that from the beginning of the second stage first burn, a fuel filter within the fuel feedline had been dislodged from its normal position.”
The Saudi Telecommunication Company (STC) signs a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. company Omnispace to develop satellite direct-to-devive services throughout Saudi Arabia. The MoU will see the two companies explore ways to develop space-based 5G mobile communications voice and data services throughout the Kingdom.
16 February 2023
Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, the Japanese Cabinet Secretary for Public Affairs Noriyuki Shikata expresses his country’s intention to expand space cooperation with Gulf Arab states. Japan has already cooperated with the UAE on space missions when it launched the Emirates Mars Mission in July 2020 from Japan. Shikata said that, “Japan looks forward to promoting further cooperation in the field of space between Japan and Saudi Arabia.”
Türkiye signs a letter-of-intent to join the UK-led Allied Persistent Surveillance from Space Initiative (APSSI) that will allow its 19 members to share satellite data and jointly procure commercial satellite imagery. The APSSI initiative is reportedly spurred by lessons learned from the ongoing war in Ukraine and will explore “the potential for sharing data from national surveillance satellites; processing, exploitation, and dissemination of data from within national capabilities; and funding to purchase data from commercial companies.” Along with Türkiye, a NATO member state, the other 18 signatories of the letter-of-intent are Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. When APSSI becomes operational in 2025 Türkiye will be a net contributor to the initiative as it operates the Göktürk-1 and Göktürk-2 electro-optical reconnaissance satellites, and as of later in 2023, the Göktürk-3 synthetic aperture radar (SAR) reconnaissance satellite.
UAE’s Council of Ministers approves three billion Dirham ($810 million) National Space Fund. The fund, first announced in July of 2022, will - in part - be used to develop the Sirb synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellite constellation as well as for other national space developments.
China’s just not that into you…Iran’s President Ebrahim Raise and China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing on 14 February 2023. Photograph credit: Xinhua.
On the eve of his three-day state visit to China, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi penned an op-ed published in the Chinese and Iranian media that, among other things, extolled Iran’s advancement in space science and technologies writing:
Today, Iran is a leading country in sciences such as stem cells, space industries, biotechnology and nanotechnology, nuclear sciences and many modern sciences. Iran is the land of knowledge and art. Thanks to the talent of young people and the efforts of scientists, Iran ranks fifteenth in the world in science production. In space technology, Iran is in the limited club of the world's space powers by designing and launching satellites based on its indigenous technology.
The emphasis on Iran’s supposed space prowess implies that Tehran might have been expecting an agreement with China expanding space cooperation between the two countries. Iranian and Chinese media report that during President Raisi’s visit to Beijing 20 memorandums of understanding and other agreements were signed covering various areas of mutual interest, but notably absent in the coverage of the visit is any mention of a new agreement on space cooperation. There may, of course, be such an agreement that has yet to be made public but it is uncharacteristic of the Iranian media not to immediately publicise it for domestic and international propaganda purposes. This suggests that no such space cooperation agreement was signed, likely because China is now more interested in pursuing space cooperation with Iran’s Gulf Arab rivals.
17 February 2023
Hungarian technology company 4iG has been cleared by Israel’s Ministry of Communications to raise its stake in Israeli commercial satellite communications company AMOS Spacecom from 9.538% to 20%. The Hungarian company acquired its initial 9.538% stake in AMOS Spacecom in October 2022, and apparently aims to increase its holding by an additional 30% to a controlling 51% over the next three years, subject to approval by shareholders and regulators in Israel. AMOS Spacecom operates four communication satellites in geostationary orbit, and AMOS-3 occupies an orbital slot leased from Hungary’s CarpathiaSat.
Iran’s ambassador to Addis Ababa, Samad Ali Lakizadeh, offers cooperation in a variety of fields to Ethiopia, to include space cooperation. Ethiopia has been operating its ETRSS-1 remote sensing satellite, built and launched by China, since later 2019.
The CEO of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, discusses cooperation with Eutelsat CEO Eva Berneke in Dubai, UAE. DEWA is the first utilities company in the world to operate its own nanosatellite, DEWA-SAT-1, and has been in discussions with Eutelsat to develop its satellite-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) plans called Space-D. The idea is that Eutelsat will provide DEWA with IoT satellite terminals as well as access to its low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications constellation, the recently acquired OneWeb, to expand DEWA’s IoT reach for managing its utilities systems across Dubai.
18 February 2023
Ali Al Hashemi, the CEO of Yahsat, took part in a fireside chat at the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange on the company’s activities and future plans for investors. Al Hashemi mostly discussed the broader trends impacting the global satellite communications industry, but specifically mentioned Yahsat’s plan to provide an organic satellite-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) service using the company’s Thuraya L-Band communication satellites across its extensive area of coverage, and spoke about Yahsat’s interest in expanding into Earth observation services. Al Hashemi also said that Yahsat is open to partnering with a low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications operator to create a mixed-orbit communications offering.
The CEO of the Saudi Space Commission, Dr. Mohammed Al Tamimi, holds virtual space cooperation talks with Carlos de Mora, the head of the Brazilian Space Agency (Agência Espacial Brasileira). The two sides discussed potential areas of cooperation in developing the space economy, space technology cooperation, innovation, and investment. Saudi Arabia and Brazil are both signatories to the Artemis Accords.
Türksat, Türkiye’s premier satellite communications provider, held talks with Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy and Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim, and his advisors in Abuja to resolve unintended incidences of satellite frequency interference. Accompanied by Türkiye’s ambassador to Nigeria, Türksat executives resolved the issues with their Nigerian counterparts. In 2018 Türksat and Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to partner on the delivery of satellite communication solutions.
Rods from God…an artist’s rendering of a U.S. Project Thor space weapon that was never built. Image from We Are The Mighty.
The President of the Turkish Space Agency, Serdar Hüseyin Yıldırım, has found himself in the midst of a rather bizarre flap following public comments he made with regard to the recent devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria. Yıldırım said that foreign satellites can drop ten-metre titanium rods to Earth and the impact of these can cause severe earthquakes. Moreover, Yıldırım claims that these rods can bury themselves up to five kilometres below ground and no one would be the wiser that they had been used. Of course, no such satellite weapon system exists and while it was briefly studied in the late 1980s and early 1990s by U.S. researchers (and referred to as ‘Rods from God’) it was sensibly abandoned by U.S. policy makers. After being roundly mocked on social media Yıldırım quickly walked back his conspiracy-ladened comments and confirmed that the recent earthquake was a natural, albeit tragic, event but that he had read about the supposed satellite weapon system on the website of an unnamed strategic institute.
Regional Company Earnings
UAE’s Yahsat announces a preliminary finding that its revenues from 2021 to 2022 increased by six percent from 1.5 billion Emirati Dirhams ($408 million) in 2021 to 1.6 billion Emirati Dirhams in 2022 ($433 million). The official Yahsat financial results for 2022 are expected to be released at the end of February 2023.
Israel’s Gilat announces strong fourth quarter and 2022 year financial results. Q4 revenue of $73 million, up 8% year over year, GAAP operating income of $6 million and Adjusted EBITDA of $10 million 2022 revenue of $240 million, up 12% year over year, GAAP operating income of $10 million andAdjusted EBITDA of $25 million, up 64% YoY.
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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