Middle East Space Roundup: 15 to 21 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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France’s Eutelsat Boots Hamas-Affiliated Al Aqsa Satellite Television Off the Air
France’s broadcasting regulator Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) has requested that Eutelsat, one of Europe’s largest commercial communications satellite operators, take down the Al Aqsa Satellite Channel that is closely affiliated with Hamas. The channel was established in 2006 and broadcasts from the Gaza Strip, and condemned the French decision on its Telegram channel stating that it had to stop broadcasting from Eutelsat-8 West-B satellite due to French pressure. In a statement Al Aqsa TV said, “In light of the massacres being committed against our people in the Gaza Strip as they are unwearyingly and steadfastly fighting in Operation Al-Aqsa Storm, and in line with continued targeting and killing of journalists in Gaza, the French company responsible for Eutelsat satellite made the decision to block the channel’s broadcast.”
Israel Defense Forces Jamming GPS to Thwart Drone Attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have intensified their use of Global Positioning System (GPS) jamming technology to counter potential drone attacks by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. This action has caused disruptions to GPS services in the region, leading to two primary consequences: the complete blocking of GPS signals and the spoofing of GPS data. The jamming affects not only civilian applications but also military use, as GPS receivers are employed in a wide range of devices, including cell phones, vehicles, and drones. By blocking or spoofing GPS signals, Israel aims to prevent hostile drones, which rely on GPS guidance, from entering its territory. However, this has led to unintended consequences for civilians, with reports of GPS systems inaccurately displaying locations. While the IDF asserts that these actions are taken for operational needs, such disruptions raise concerns about the broader implications and challenges associated with GPS interference in a technology-dependent world.
U.S. Commercial Satellite Imagery Restrictions on Israel Take Effect
Commercial satellite imagery tracking of the Hamas attack against Israel on 7 October 2023 represents a significant test for commercial Earth observation operators since the relaxation of restrictions on remote sensing satellite licenses in the United States in August 2023. Notably, despite reduced restrictions for many parts of the world, the U.S. government continues to impose strict regulations on high-resolution imagery of Israeli territory. The 1997 Kyl-Bingaman Amendment prohibits U.S. operators from disseminating images of Israel at a resolution higher than what's available outside the U.S. Consequently, high-resolution imagery of Israeli border operations in places like the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are restricted. This limitation affects various users, including foreign governments, NGOs, and media outlets, who must make do with lower-resolution images compared to those available for coverage of other conflicts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. sector regulator, set a 40 cm limit for imagery resolution for Israeli territory. This underscores that the primary intent of the new NOAA rules was to safeguard Israeli territory, and it has led to providers like Maxar and Umbra adhering to this resolution limit in their imagery offerings. In contrast, Airbus Group claims to adhere primarily to space law in France, which adopts a more case-by-case approach, seeking authorisation from authorities before distributing imagery to clients, considering specific instructions and client requests for particular areas.
Iran Celebrates Close Orbital Conjunction of Noor-2 and Noor-3 Satellites
Iran's Noor-2 and Noor-3 satellites, launched in March and September 2023, respectively, had their closest encounter on 17 October 2023, when they reached their orbits' nearest point at an altitude of 450 kilometers over the Indian Ocean. These domestically developed satellites were launched by Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)'s Aerospace Force. Noor-2 was launched using a three-stage satellite carrier named Qassed from a launch pad in central Iran. It orbits at an altitude of 500 kilometers and is designed for various missions, including military reconnaissance and natural disaster response.
Viasat, MinFarm Tech, and Global Beam Telecom Partner for IoT-Over-Satellite Hub in the UAE
Viasat, in collaboration with its Elevate partners MinFarm Tech Ltd. and Global Beam Telecom LLC, is establishing a pioneering Internet of Things (IoT)-over-satellite facility in Dubai's Business Bay, scheduled to open in November 2023. This UAE facility, the first of its kind in the region, aims to simplify the adoption of satellite-enabled IoT solutions by offering customers the opportunity to explore various end-to-end IoT solutions in person. By leveraging Viasat's global satellite connectivity along with MinFarm and Global Beam Telecom's technological expertise, the hub will provide bespoke IoT solutions, including hardware and connectivity packages. The initiative seeks to address the challenges associated with selecting appropriate satellite-enabled IoT solutions, making technology more accessible, and fostering collaboration between customers and IoT experts, particularly in industries like oil and gas, utilities, and water management. Through the Viasat Elevate program, MinFarm and Global Beam Telecom will leverage Viasat's satellite network and expertise, promoting innovation and satellite-powered offerings across the MENA region.
Historic Baikonur Launch Pad to Close Despite Promise of UAE Investment
Due to a lack of funding for modernisation, Russia has decided to transform its historic launch pad known as "Gagarin's Start" into a museum. This pad, renowned for hosting the world's first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, has seen 520 launches over the years, making it the most used launch site globally. Initially, it was slated for modernisation to accommodate the larger Soyuz 2 rocket, but funding constraints led to delays. The hope of UAE investment to upgrade the facility emerged briefly, but it never materialised. Amidst geopolitical tensions, international cooperation waned, and potential investors disappeared. Consequently, a joint Russian-Kazakh commission decided to convert the pad into a museum complex, preserving its historical significance and enhancing Baikonur's appeal as a tourist destination. Moreover, Russia's increasing focus on its domestic launch facilities and declining commercial demand for Soyuz 2 launches played a role in this decision.
UAE Leverages Space Technologies to Combat Climate Change in Run Up to COP28
The UAE is actively leveraging its space sector to address climate change challenges through a series of initiatives and projects. These efforts align with the country's commitment to sustainability, environmental protection, and combating climate change. Among the key initiatives is the launch of the Space Data Centre, which provides access to space data for developing solutions to global challenges. The UAE Space Agency's Space Analytics and Solutions (SAS) Programme fosters local and international partnerships to create sustainability solutions. Partnerships, like the one with Planet, aim to use satellite data to address climate-related challenges. Hosting events like the Abu Dhabi Space Debate reinforces international cooperation in climate efforts. Moreover, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites enhance data collection for climate change monitoring, while nanosatellites like MeznSat and DM-SAT1 focus on studying greenhouse gases and environmental data to support climate action and environmental planning. These initiatives underscore the UAE's dedication to combatting climate change and advancing environmental sustainability on a global scale.
Preparations to Launch Türkiye's First Astronaut Advance
Axiom Space's Ax-3 mission is set for a launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in January 2024. The diverse crew includes a former NASA astronaut, a European Space Agency reserve astronaut, and a passenger who flew to suborbital space with Virgin Galactic. The mission will employ SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew's training and preparations have improved since the pioneering Ax-1 mission, with a focus on smoother operations and more support from experienced astronauts. The mission highlights the increasing role of commercial space travel and collaborations between government and industry, with Türkiye's first citizen in space among the participants, contributing to national pride and unity following a recent earthquake. The crew brings varied experiences, including suborbital flights and international training, making the mission a testament to the evolving landscape of space travel.
UAE’s Thuraya Partners with Norway’s Cypod Solutions for Tracking Shipping Containers Using IoT-Over-Satellite
Thuraya Telecommunications Company, a subsidiary of Yahsat - the UAE’s premier commercial satellite operator, has introduced Cypod Solutions' CyLock-Satcom Product, utilising Thuraya's Internet of Things (IoT) network, aiming to revolutionise shipping logistics. This innovative product, developed by Norway's Cypod Solutions, leverages Thuraya's advanced mobile satellite system and offers real-time container tracking capabilities, remote locking and unlocking mechanisms for cargo security, and real-time data sensing for sensitive materials. It operates on satellite and terrestrial networks, making it versatile for land, sea, air, and rail transportation. CyLock-Satcom is poised to enhance container shipping operations, safety measures, and the secure transportation of critical merchandise in the global logistics sector. This initiative demonstrates Thuraya's commitment to innovation and their contribution to addressing real-world challenges in the IoT space.
Qatar Airways Selects SpaceX’s Starlink for Satellite In-Flight Connectivity Services
Qatar Airways, one of the Middle East's largest airlines, has chosen SpaceX’s Starlink as its in-flight connectivity (IFC) partner to enhance its customer services. This partnership represents a significant milestone for Starlink in the aviation sector. Currently in the pre-launch phase, the rollout strategy will soon be implemented across Qatar Airways' entire fleet. Once operational, passengers can expect high-speed Wi-Fi with speeds of up to 350 Mbps, enabling various internet-based services such as video streaming, gaming, and enriched web browsing during their flights. This collaboration underscores the growing importance of reliable and fast connectivity for airlines, allowing passengers to stay connected seamlessly from gate to gate, enhancing their overall travel experience.
Israel in Discussions with SpaceX to Bring Starlink SATCOM Services to Country
Israel is in discussions with SpaceX to bring Starlink internet services to its territory, primarily targeting communities near conflict zones. This marks the potential introduction of Starlink in Israel for the first time. Concurrently, Israel is exploring the possibility of disrupting cellular and internet communications in Gaza. Israel's Minister of Communications, Shlomo Karhi, explained that the coordination with SpaceX aims to enable the operation of communication terminals, providing broadband internet connectivity in Israel. Additionally, the government is encouraging the purchase of these satellite devices for regional councils and community leaders in areas affected by conflict. This development follows the recent attack against Israel by Hamas, resulting in significant casualties on both sides. The importance of satellite-based internet during conflicts became evident during Russia's invasion of Ukraine when Ukrainian forces relied on Starlink for communication. However, the exact timeline and user base for the service in Israel remain uncertain. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, previously declined a request from Ukraine to activate Starlink before an attack on Russia's navy, emphasising the complex role such services play in conflicts. Further details on the implementation and source of these terminals are also unclear at this time.
Low-Earth Orbit and CubeSat Workshop Held in Türkiye
Leading companies in the satellite and defence sectors convened at the Low-Earth Orbit and CubeSat Workshop in Ankara, Türkiye, hosted by satellite operator Turksat and global communications partner Anadolu. This two-day workshop explored New Space, focusing on CubeSat production and ground segment technologies. It aimed to evaluate future opportunities and foster collaboration among Türkiye's prominent companies in the field of low-Earth orbital satellites. The event included panels and sessions covering various topics, such as Türkiye's past CubeSat projects, team satellites' opportunities and challenges, space situational awareness, and space law. Supported by the Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Ministry and the Defence Industries Presidency, the workshop enjoyed sponsorship from prominent Turkish defence and space organisations.
Arabsat Partners with Microsoft for Cloud Computing Solutions to Develop New SATCOM Solutions
Arabsat, the regional satellite services provider headquartered in Saudi Arabia, has inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Microsoft Arabia to advance digital transformation and service development. This collaboration aims to harness cloud computing technology for enhanced performance efficiency, increased productivity, and cost reduction, facilitating Arabsat's goal to become a leading satellite operator. Together, they will leverage Microsoft technologies to bolster Arabsat's digital infrastructure and the digital capabilities of its workforce. This partnership seeks to create value-added and quality services tailored to the Arab market, emphasising cybersecurity solutions and digital capacity building. Additionally, an innovation laboratory will be established to develop satellite communication products and environmentally sustainable solutions for climate change monitoring and weather forecasting. This strategic alliance signifies Arabsat's commitment to maintaining its digital services leadership and accelerating digital transformation within the satellite communications sector.
Türkiye’s First Indigenously-Built GEO SATCOM Türksat-6A Cleared for Launch in June 2024
Türkiye's forthcoming indigenously-built communications satellite, Türksat-6A, has successfully passed all tests and is scheduled for launch in June 2024 through an agreement with SpaceX. This significant milestone marks Türkiye's emergence as one of the first 11 countries worldwide capable of producing communication satellites capable of operating in geostationary orbit at approximately 36,000 kilometers altitude. Positioned at 42 degrees east longitude, the satellite boasts a power capacity of 7.5 kilowatts and 20 transponders. Türksat-6A's coverage will extend to regions previously beyond reach, including Southeast Asia. The successful assembly, integration, and testing of the satellite are the result of collaboration between Türksat, the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). This accomplishment underscores Türkiye's commitment to expanding its presence in space and global influence in the 21st century.
Azerbaijan Continues to Investigate Alleged GPS Jamming by Armenian Groups in Nagorno-Karabakh
The State Security Service of Azerbaijan is conducting an investigation into GPS jamming generated by alleged Armenian armed groups against civilian aircraft. This interference, discovered during the ongoing criminal case, involved the use of foreign-made electronic warfare capabilities, specifically the Russian-made Polyus-21M system, mounted on Repellent-1 trucks, and other makeshift electronic warfare systems. These systems were used to create radio interference and disrupt signals from satellite navigation systems like GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, and others within a range of up to 150 km. Such interference posed a threat to civilian aircraft navigation systems, affecting their control and potentially leading to aviation incidents. Investigations are ongoing to address these serious security concerns. This underscores the importance of international efforts to ensure the safe operation of civilian aviation in conflict zones.
Algeria, Iran, Israel, and Jordan Participate in UN Debate on Disarmament Aspects of Outer Space
Countries from across the Greater Middle East participated in the United Nations’ Debate on Disarmament Aspects of Outer Space. Algeria, Iran, Israel, and Jordan participated in the debate but most of their remarks focused on mutual condemnations regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas following the latter’s attack against Israel on 7 October 2023. Iran, represented by Asadallah Eshragh Jahromi, voiced concern about the security risks associated with the deployment of strategic missile defence systems and emphasised the importance of addressing such issues through a non-discriminatory multilateral approach within the United Nations. Iran also highlighted the establishment of a new group of governmental experts on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, emphasising the need to avoid politicisation among its members. Iran called on the United States to withdraw its opposition to the establishment of a special negotiating committee for the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Additionally, Iran opposed the monopolisation of outer space and restrictions on the peaceful use of space-related science, technology, and services for developing countries. Algeria, represented by Larbi Abdelfattah Lebbaz, also focused on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, Algeria emphasised the necessity of bolstering the existing legal framework through the adoption of a legally binding international instrument. Algeria acknowledged the updated draft treaty text presented by Russia and China to the Conference on Disarmament as a constructive starting point for further discussions and negotiations on this critical matter. The delegation urged the Conference on Disarmament to initiate negotiations on this issue, emphasising that while voluntary measures are valuable, they cannot serve as a substitute for a legally binding treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
A team from Türkiye’s Istanbul Technical University will participate in the Australian Rover Challenge (ARCh) next year to be hosted by the Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources at the University of Adelaide;
The UAE Space Agency brought together the Dubai Airshow Advisory Board to prepare for the upcoming Dubai Airshow, scheduled from 13 to 17 November 2023, at the Dubai World Central Airport (DWC);
Sarah Al Amiri, Chairperson of the UAE Space Agency, led a delegation to South Korea to participate in the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (Seoul ADEX) 2023 and for meetings with South Korean government space organisations and with commercial space companies.
Arab Countries Should Take the Lead in Cleaning Up Space Debris
Khaled Abou Zahr, writing in Arab News, says that space debris is becoming an increasingly critical issue as the commercialisation of space activities drives a surge in satellite deployments. Recent U.S. government fines, such as the one imposed on DISH Network, highlight the need for stricter regulations regarding space debris. As more defunct satellites, rocket stages, and debris accumulate in orbit, the risk of collisions rises, endangering active satellites and space missions. International cooperation is essential to address this problem, with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) positioned to play a vital role due to their growing interest and investments in space activities. This involvement can encompass enhanced tracking of objects in orbit, the establishment of best practices for collision avoidance, and regulatory measures to reduce the growth of space debris. Initiatives like the Space Sustainability Rating and engaging with private companies and entrepreneurs for innovative solutions are also crucial steps toward ensuring a safer and more sustainable space environment. Taking a leadership role in space sustainability can contribute significantly to the future of space exploration and the projected trillion-dollar space economy by 2040.
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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