Middle East Space Roundup: 15-21 January 2023
A summary of all the space news in the Greater Middle East over the past week
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates (right), receives the President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, and First Lady of the Republic of Korea, Kim Keon-hee, in Abu Dhabi on 15 January 2023. Photograph courtesy of Reuters.
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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15 January 2023
Türkiye’s Bülent Ecevit University celebrates the first anniversary of its student-built Grizu-263A PocketQube Earth observation satellite that was launched by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 13 January 2023. The Grizu-263 team intends to build other satellites and is backed by Turkish steel manufacturing company Erdemir. The Grizu-263A PocketQube satellite measures five cubic centimetres, weighs 250 grams, operates in a Polar orbit at 525 kilometres altitude, and is expected to have an operational lifetime of just under five years. To date the Grizu-263A has collected over 10,000 images of the Earth’s surface.
16 January 2023
Middle East Monitor wrote up a fascinating interview with Egyptian astronaut Sara Sabry who, against the odds, has achieved a slew of ‘firsts’: first female Egyptian and Arab astronaut; first Egyptian astronaut; and first African astronaut. All of which has been achieved after her suborbital flight on board Blue Origin’s New Shepard NS-22 flight in 2022. In the interview Sara Sabry talks about her passion for space and science, describes the obstacles she had to overcome to make her dream come true as a woman from Egypt, as well as her non-profit Deep Space Initiative that provides under-privileged people with the skills and opportunity to pursue a career in space.
The United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Korea have agreed to expand their cooperation in space with the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding on 15 January 2023. The signing of the MoU took place during the state visit of South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol to the UAE and was witnessed by both President Yoon and UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan. South Korea’s Ministry of Science, Information, and Communication Technology (ICT) and the UAE Space Agency signed the MoU that extends an original MoU originally signed between the two parties in 2017. The new MoU makes provisions for both countries to cooperate in space exploration, satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation, space data exchange, ground stations, launch services, space situational awareness, and space traffic management.
17 January 2023
United Arab Emirates telecommunications company du, along with European commercial satellite communications company SES, demonstrate the first satellite-enabled 5G mobile telephone backhaul network in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, Arabsat extends its agreement with French company France Médias Monde for the distribution of satellite television content across the Middle East and North Africa.
American space historian Dwayne A. Day writes an interesting essay, citing primary documentation, of the space programme in Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s. Day describes the development of Iraq’s Al-Ta’ir (Arabic for ‘the bird) experimental communications satellite and its Al-Abid space launch vehicle as well as the obstacles and challenges the Iraqis faced in pursuing a viable space programme due to international concerns about Iraq’s ballistic missile capabilities and Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
18 January 2023
A company in Oman has announced that it intends to build a spaceport, the first of its kind on the Arabian Peninsula, just outside of the Omani port city of Duqm on the coast of the Indian Ocean. To be called the Etlaq Space Launch Complex, the proposed spaceport is being managed and built by a small Omani firm named National Aerospace Services Company (NASCOM). The Etlaq spaceport will take approximately three years to completely build and, for the foreseeable future at least, will focus on launching indigenously-built and international sounding rockets - with the first launch possibly taking place as early as 2024. The Etlaq spaceport will be colocated with Oman’s Space Settlement Centre for simulated space missions and space science research. There is no indication of who, if anyone, is funding the Etlaq spaceport and if any Omani government entity is officially backing the project.
Artistic rendering of Oman’s Space Settlement Centre, where the proposed Etlaq Space Launch Complex will be co-located. Image courtesy of the Oman News Agency.
19 January 2023
The first ever satellite built in the UAE Emirate of Sharjah, SharjahSat-1, is in its proper orbit and engineers have received its first signal. Launched as a rideshare by SpaceX on 3 January 2023, SharjahSat-1 is a nanosatellite built by the Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space Sciences and Technology (SAASST) of the University of Sharjah, and is designed to study the Sun and space weather.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the UAE Space Agency hosted a panel session titled “The Future of Earth: LEO Politics of the 21st Century.” The panel was billed as an extension of the space agency’s December 2022 Abu Dhabi Space Debate, and was moderated by Jesse Klempner, a Partner at McKinsey & Company, and hosted thought leaders and industry experts, including Dylan Taylor, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Voyager Space, William Marshall, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Planet Labs, and Dan Tenney, Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space. Also at Davos, the Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency and Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, Sarah Bint Yousif Al Amiri, told an audience that “What drove us was a real sense of urgency, knowing that science and technology are fundamental parts of growth for the future of our economy and our industrial sectors…And we continue to invest in the space sector so that we can spring the development of a private space sector.”
The armed forces of Türkiye plan to launch two national security satellites in 2023, according to a report summarising Turkish defence projects for 2022 and planned projects in 2023. The first planned launch will be the KILIÇSAT Cubesat that will be used for maritime domain awareness (MDA) in and around Turkish territorial waters and their approaches. The second planned launch will be the İmece reconnaissance satellite.
The ground control and downlink station for Armenia’s Earth observation satellite ARMSAT-1 will be operational later this year according to Armenian Minister of High-Tech Industry Robert Khachatryan. ARMSAT-1 was launched by SpaceX in May 2022 and is still undergoing on-orbit checks before it is fully operational and handed over to the Armenian space agency GeoCosmos. ARMSAT-1 was built by Spanish satellite manufacturer Satlantis.
The UAE’s second astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi, and his fellow astronauts will now be launched to the International Space Station on board a SpaceX Dragon capsule on 26 February 2023. The announcement follows news that the launch of the crew was delayed due to efforts be Russia’s Roscosmos and the U.S. space agency NASA to send a replacement Soyuz capsule to the ISS that will replace the capsule currently docked with the ISS and that was damaged, likely by a micrometeorite, several weeks ago and stranding three crew members on board.
20 January 2023
Back at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency Sarah Bint Yousif Al Amiri told an audience at a panel on the threat from antisatellite (ASAT) weapons that there is no place for politics in space and that it should remain a peaceful domain. “This is a space — pun intended — required for the long run, then it should not be in the repertoire of political movements,” said Al Amiri. “We’ve got enough tools to address global skirmishes, we cannot create a further problem to solve a current problem…And this is what's happening in the space sector. We need to remain actively, consciously and transparent that space is for peaceful use…The low-Earth orbit, which is the orbit that we will require the most, is a finite commodity that needs to be accessible for everyone,” she added. Ms. Al Amiri’s comments were made following the testing in recent years of direct-ascent ASAT weapons by China, India, and Russia.
Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency. Photograph courtesy of the UAE Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology.
UAE English-language newspaper Khaleej Times profiles the private astronaut from Kuwait, Bader Al Moulah.
The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative published an interesting piece on the GHGSat monitoring satellite and how it is helping detect methane leaks in the oil fields of Iraq.
Egypt and India have created a bilateral committee to discuss space cooperation, while the Egyptian Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouli, praised the efforts of the Egyptian Space Agency for assisting the government in achieving its sustainable development goals.
21 January 2023
Back at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology and Chairman of the Saudi Space Commission, Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha, met again with UK Secretary of Business Grant Shapps to discuss space and science cooperation between the Kingdom and Great Britain. The two ministers met last week in Saudi Arabia to discuss space cooperation, in particular on space-based solar power (SBSP).
UK Business Secretary Grant Shapps, MP, (left), with Saudi Minister for Communications and Information Technology and Chairman of the Saudi Space Commission, Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha (centre), and the Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi Space Commission, Mohammed Al-Tamimi (right), pictured together at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. Photograph courtesy of the Saudi Press Agency.
UK public services company Serco, which has interests in defence, law enforcement, health, trasnport, and infrastructure, will open a Space Division in Saudi Arabia this year in order to tap into what the company expects to be lucrative space contracts issued by the Saudi government.
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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