Middle East Space Roundup: 14 to 20 May 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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SpaceIL Loses Funding for Beresheet-2 Lunar Mission
SpaceIL, the organisation behind Israel's Beresheet-2 lunar mission, has faced a setback as several major donors withdrew their funding for the project. The decision, announced by SpaceIL, was not influenced by any issues with the organisation or the mission itself. Instead, the donors expressed the need to redirect their resources toward other sectors of Israeli society. Speaking on behalf of the donors, Morris Kahn explained that they had invested $45 million in the Beresheet 2 mission but decided to halt their funding to focus on philanthropic projects during challenging times in Israeli politics. Despite the setback, SpaceIL remains committed to realizing the Beresheet vision and is actively seeking new funding sources. The Beresheet 2 mission, slated for a 2025 launch, aims to send an orbiter and two landers to the Moon. The mission's total cost is estimated at $100 million, and additional funding of approximately $10 million is needed in the short term to sustain the project. Despite the funding withdrawal, SpaceIL is determined to inspire future generations and continue its innovative and aspirational work.
Saudi Arabia’s iot squared to Expand Satellite-Enabled IoT Services in the Kingdom
iot squared, a joint venture between Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) and stc Group, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with OQ Technology to expand satellite IoT connectivity in Saudi Arabia. OQ Technology, claiming to be the first global satellite telecom operator for IoT connectivity using the 5G protocol, will provide iot squared with satellite IoT connectivity services, products, and technical support. The collaboration aims to identify target markets, verticals, and applications in Saudi Arabia that require satellite IoT services and offer tailored solutions. The integration of satellite IoT services in the Kingdom is expected to drive the adoption of IoT solutions and support national digital transformation objectives. OQ Technology's constellation of nanosatellites enables low-latency 5G-based massive machine communication globally. The partnership with iot squared will leverage shared networks, resources, and expertise to identify new target markets and advance the adoption of IoT solutions in Saudi Arabia, aligning with the country's digital transformation goals.
Saudi Arabian Astronauts Complete Training and Are Go for Launch!
NASA and SpaceX have given the go-ahead for the Axiom Mission 2, which will send two astronauts from Saudi Arabia to the International Space Station (ISS). Scheduled to launch on 22 May 2023 Gulf Standard Time (GST), the mission will carry Saudi citizens Rayyanah Barnawi, the Kingdom's first female astronaut, Ali Al Qarni, and American astronauts Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner. The crew's stay on the ISS has been reduced from 10 to eight days to accommodate NASA's flight schedule. The launch will take place from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, and if successful, it will mark the first time three Arabs are in space simultaneously. The astronauts will engage in various experiments, including cloud seeding research.
Speedcast Receives License to Operate in Saudi Arabia
Speedcast, a satellite communications service provider, has obtained an Internet Service Provider license from Saudi Arabia's Communications, Space and Technology Commission (CST) as part of its expansion in the country. The company is responding to the growing demand for connectivity in the energy market and is constructing a new teleport facility that will house office and warehouse space and an iDirect hub. Speedcast is also increasing its staffing in Saudi Arabia to provide installation, operations, and maintenance services. The expansion aligns with the changes in the energy market and Saudi Arabia's plans to increase the number of drilling units offshore and on land. Speedcast aims to enhance its service offerings in the Middle East and meet the rising demands of customers in the region.
Oman’s Azyan Telecom Selects Kymeta for SATCOM Terminals
Kymeta, a leading flat panel satellite antenna company, has announced a significant order from telecom service provider Azyan Telecom for its Hawk u8 terminals connected by OneWeb. This collaboration brings Kymeta and OneWeb's unique low-Earth orbit (LEO) offering to Oman for the first time, enabling the expansion of national telecom capabilities in the region. The electronically steered flat panel Hawk u8 terminals, powered by a software-first approach, will deliver reliable and mobile broadband connectivity across sectors in Oman. This is particularly crucial in areas with challenging terrain and frequent typhoons such as Oman that hinder high-speed connectivity options. The deal strengthens Kymeta's commitment to delivering genuinely mobile connectivity worldwide and represents a significant step forward in expanding partnerships in the region. The terminals will be available for delivery in Oman in the first quarter of 2024.
UAE’s Bayanat and Yahsat Order Five SAR Satellites from ICEYE
UAE geospatial solutions provider Bayanat and UAE's satellite solutions provider Yahsat have jointly announced a comprehensive space programme to develop national satellite remote sensing and Earth observation capabilities in the UAE. The programme, in partnership with Finnish synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite manufacturer ICEYE, will involve the development of at least five SAR low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide consistent data streams for SAR applications. Unlike traditional optical imaging satellites, SAR can capture high-resolution images day and night, regardless of weather conditions. The programme aims to enhance Bayanat's commercial offerings by providing valuable geospatial insights to various industries in a timely and accurate manner. It also aligns with the UAE's broader space ecosystem goals, including in-country satellite manufacturing capabilities and strengthening the nation's position in space technology. The first LEO satellite launch is scheduled for Q1 2024.
Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University and China’s Star.Vison Sign AI Satellite Deal
Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) has recently entered into a significant agreement to advance technological initiatives in Oman. The university has partnered with China’s Star.Vision, a satellite and artificial intelligence technology company, to launch the first Omani AI model into space. This collaboration aims to localise advanced technologies within the country and promote awareness of space technologies among Omani youth. SQU's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department students will gain practical experience developing AI algorithms for Star.Vision's latest AI satellite focuses on identifying shipping vessels in the Sea of Oman to protect the marine environment.
Iran-China Secret SATCOM Deal Exposed
A whistleblower in the IT industry has revealed leaked documents exposing significant telecommunications contracts between Iran and China. Nariman Gharib, an Iranian-British internet security expert, disclosed a list of contracts signed between Iran's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and Chinese companies to exiled news organisation Iran International. The leaked document includes ten contracts covering various projects, such as the development of Iran's landline network, infrastructure for fourth and fifth-generation broadband cellular networks, smartphone production, development of messenger services, and three communication satellites. While feasibility studies have been conducted for some projects, others are still in the planning stages. The contract values range from $100 million to $450 million for a 42-month project for a geosynchronous telecommunication satellite, $300 million for a three-year satellite project, $220 million for landline development, $325 million for the modernisation of Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), and $250 million for the modernisation of MTN Irancell. The contracts also outline the allocation of 5G sites and LTE networks to the companies. The leaked information sheds light on China's significant role in providing telecommunications services and technology to regimes like Iran, where there are concerns about internet censorship and surveillance. Notably, China's ZTE has previously sold surveillance systems to TCI, enabling monitoring of Iran's landline, mobile, and internet communications. The revelations raise concerns about the potential misuse of advanced technology by the Iranian government to crack down on dissidents and violate human rights.
Turkish Astronauts Start Training in the United States
Alper Gezeravci and Tuva Cihangir Atasever, the first Turkish space travelers selected by Türkiye, have provided insights into their training and future projects. Gezeravci, a Turkish Air Force pilot, stumbled upon the opportunity to apply for space travel coincidentally and decided to submit his application after meeting the criteria set by the Turkish Space Agency. Gezeravci expressed excitement about being part of this historic moment in Türkiye's history and hopes it will pave the way for the country's participation and contribution to larger space projects. Atasever, a system engineer at Turkish missile manufacturer Roketsan, had already aspired to travel to space and applied when Türkiye announced the selection process. He received news of his selection and described it as a joy and a source of pride. The training, taking place in various locations across the United States, will continue for six months before the mission is conducted in the last quarter of 2023. The training initially focuses on theoretical aspects, with practical training scheduled for the upcoming months, including visits to Germany, Japan, and Alabama for familiarisation with subsystems and modules of the International Space Station. Atasever plans to contribute to the establishment of a sustainable space ecosystem and industry in Türkiye after completing his space mission.
Independent scholar Amna Kalhoro writes a fascinating essay titled “The Final Frontier for the Faithful: Islamic Rulings on Space,” in e-International Relations. The fascination of the Muslim world with space exploration has raised discussions on its religious permissibility and sparked debates on the topic. Muslim countries, including Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Pakistan, and Türkiye, have established their own space programmes, launched satellites, and are even planning to send Muslim astronauts to space in consultation with Islamic scholars. The religious rulings on space activities for Muslim countries vary, and opinions differ among scholars and organisations. Some argue that space exploration is permissible as long as it does not harm God's creation or violate Islamic principles, while others consider certain space activities, such as space tourism, as prohibited (haram) due to perceived risks and violation of the principle of self-preservation. The verses from the Quran encourage Muslims to seek knowledge, explore the signs of Allah in the cosmos, and utilise their intellect and reason. Despite challenges related to Islamic practices and laws, space exploration offers advantages for Muslim nations, including scientific and technological advancements, economic development, job creation, and opportunities for global cooperation. It is important for Muslim countries to consult with scholars, experts, and international partners to address religious and practical considerations while pursuing their space programmes.
At CNNBusiness, Rebecca Cairns profiles UAE startup Precious Payload. The company aims to simplify the process of launching cargo into space by acting as the "Booking.com for rocket launches." The platform gathers data from space agencies and rocket launches worldwide, creating its own list of specifications to ensure compliance with regulations. By streamlining the process, Precious Payload aims to cut the time-to-launch and costs associated with space missions. The company has already received bookings from 30 clients across 12 countries, offering services for a range of cargo, including satellites, manufacturing, biological samples, and even art and marketing payloads. The UAE-based startup plans to expand its services to include ground services and satellite development in the future.
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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