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Middle East Space Roundup: 17 to 23 September 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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Türkiye's Türksat 6A Communications Satellite to be Launched in June 2024
Türkiye's Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Abdulkadir Uraloğlu, has announced plans to launch Türksat-6A, the country's first domestically-produced communications satellite, in June 2024. This satellite will expand Türkiye's reach in terms of communication services, covering new geographies like Southeast Asia that were not covered by previous Türksat satellites. Türksat-6A is designed for a 15-year mission and features a high degree of domestic production, reducing foreign dependency on the satellite and space sector. Once in orbit, it will be equipped with 20 transponders and positioned in a geostationary orbit at an altitude of 35,786 kilometers, enhancing Türkiye's connectivity and communication capabilities.
CEO of Egyptian Space Agency Praises Cooperation with China
Egypt's CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA), Sherif Sedky, has emphasised the significant role of China in helping Egypt become a pioneer in Africa's space sector. Egypt's strategic and fruitful cooperation with China in space technology includes the establishment of the Satellite Assembly, Integration, and Test Centre (AITC), the largest in the Middle East and Africa, as well as the design and manufacture of the MisrSat-II Earth observation satellite. The AITC and the MisrSat-II satellite were established through a full grant from China, making Egypt the first African country with the capability to assemble, integrate, and test satellites. MisrSat-II, designed for remote sensing, will aid Egypt in its sustainable development goals by monitoring various aspects of the country, including agriculture, urban development, water resources, and mineral wealth. This collaboration with China is seen as very promising and successful, with Egypt looking forward to further deepening its strategic cooperation.
UAE Astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi Returns to Abu Dhabi to a Hero’s Welcome after Historic Space Mission
UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi received a hero's welcome upon his return to Abu Dhabi after a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS). President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, welcomed him at Abu Dhabi's new airport terminal. Dr. Al Neyadi, who made history as the first Arab astronaut to perform a spacewalk during his ISS mission, was greeted by his family and Emirati pupils in astronaut flight suits. He presented an Emirati flag that had been to space to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who unfurled it, expressing his pride in the astronaut's achievement. Dr. Al Neyadi expressed his vision of placing the UAE flag on the Moon and Mars in the future, with the country continuing to invest in space exploration.
Sultan Al Neyadi Expresses Hope that UAE Participates in NASA Lunar Gateway Programme
UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, upon his return to the UAE after a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), expressed his hope to be part of NASA's proposed Lunar Gateway station, which will orbit the Moon by the end of the decade. The Lunar Gateway is a key element of NASA's Artemis programme, aiming to enable long-term human missions to the Moon. The UAE is exploring ways to contribute to the Gateway, potentially providing an airlock module for astronauts' access. Al Neyadi emphasised the importance of training for such missions and stated that he would love to participate if the opportunity arises, but suitability and mission requirements will be determining factors. The UAE's space ambitions continue to grow, with plans to secure missions to the ISS every two to three years and more Emirati astronauts in training.
In Meeting with Elon Musk, Türkiye’s Erdogan Dangles Starlink Access in Return for Tesla Factory on Turkish Soil
During a meeting at the UN General Assembly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan requested Elon Musk's assistance in building a Tesla factory in Türkiye, while Musk sought permission for SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service to operate in the country. Although Musk did not have Tesla executives present at the meeting, it underscored his position in negotiating with foreign governments that can leverage his various companies against each other. Starlink, a $10 billion SpaceX satellite communications venture, aims to gain global market access to succeed, and Türkiye, as a sizable market, is an attractive prospect. However, Türkiye's government controls telecommunications and typically requires foreign satellite companies to partner with its state-backed firm, posing a challenge for Starlink's independent network. Musk faces similar complexities in China, where Tesla's manufacturing operations impact his other companies' behaviour.
Arabsat Participates at the International Satellite Broadcasting Exhibition and Conference in Amsterdam
Arabsat, headquartered in Saudi Arabia, participated in the International Satellite Broadcasting Exhibition and Conference (IBC 2023) in Amsterdam, showcasing its dedication to advancing satellite TV broadcasting and telecommunications technologies. The company had a dedicated stand at Booth 1.B37 in Hall 1, offering networking opportunities, knowledge exchange, and demonstrations of its latest technological innovations. Arabsat also unveiled its new brand identity, reflecting its evolving strategies and commitment to staying at the forefront of satellite technology. Founded in 1976 by the Arab League member-states, Arabsat has become a leading provider of satellite services in the region, delivering over 650 TV channels, 245 radio stations, pay-TV networks, and HD channels to millions of homes across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.
Elon Musk Claims He Received a Letter of Complaint from the Iranian Government about Starlink
Tech billionaire Elon Musk revealed that he received a letter from Iranian officials complaining about his satellite Internet service, Starlink, which assists Iranians in bypassing government-imposed restrictions on internet access. During a live discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Musk mentioned the letter and humorously remarked that it didn't contain phrases like "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." Netanyahu emphasized the importance of preventing regimes like Iran from controlling the flow of information to their citizens. Starlink has been providing internet access in Iran despite government restrictions, with SpaceX deploying numerous Starlink terminals in the country.
Bahrain’s Beyon Signs MoU with E-Space for Provision of Satellite IoT Services in the Kingdom
Beyon has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with E-Space, a prominent satellite communications firm, to facilitate the deployment of innovative communications solutions and Internet of Things (IoT) services in Bahrain. Focusing on IoT, Beyon aims to explore opportunities aligned with Bahrain's digital economy vision for 2030. Through this collaboration, the two companies will work on developing satellite IoT solutions utilising Beyon's network capabilities and E-Space's advanced low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation and device capabilities. Their joint efforts aim to create unique IoT solutions that support uninterrupted, real-time IoT data services, contributing to the digital growth of various sectors in Bahrain. This partnership seeks to offer continuous coverage and advanced IoT services by combining terrestrial and space communications, paving the way for new business models and innovative applications in the region.
UAE Space Agency Reveals Some Data about the Health of the National Space Sector
The UAE Space Agency reveals that the UAE's space sector has seen significant growth, with spending increasing by over 6.6% as revealed in the 2021 Space Economic Survey conducted by the agency. This growth signifies the UAE's progress in becoming a global hub for the space industry. Government spending in the sector increased by 12.7% year-on-year and accounted for 55.7% of total spending, while commercial expenditure constituted 44.3%. Research and development (R&D) spending saw a 14.8% increase, with R&D for space exploration making up 76.8% of the total. The survey also highlighted that Emirati nationals comprise 38.5% of the space sector workforce, and 59.2% of employees in the sector are Emirati youth. The communications sector benefited the most from space-related services and applications, followed by sectors such as security, education, tourism, and entertainment. Moreover, there was an 83.6% increase in scientific publications related to space.
Saudi Arabia’s TONOMUS and OneWeb Award Contract to Build SATCOM Ground Station
First Tech Web Company Limited, a joint venture between OneWeb and TONOMUS, has chosen Albabtain LeBlanc, a prominent Saudi Arabian construction firm, to construct a satellite station in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. This station will be an essential component of the joint venture's ground infrastructure, aiming to bridge the digital divide by providing reliable high-speed, low-latency internet connectivity to remote and underserved areas in Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region. The project is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2023. The partnership with Albabtain LeBlanc is part of OneWeb's strategy to expand its global ground network, with a focus on supporting various applications like telemedicine, education, and agriculture, in addition to its role as an Observer Member of the Digital Cooperation Organisation (DCO).
UAE’s Yahsat Announces Interim Cash Dividend for H1 2023
Yahsat, the UAE’s premier commercial satellite communications company listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, has announced an interim cash dividend of 8.23 fils per share, totaling AED 201 million for the first half of 2023. To qualify for the dividend, investors must acquire shares by 27 September 2023, or be shareholders of record as of 2 October 2023, with the dividend set to be paid by 16 October 2023. On an annual basis, the company is poised to deliver a dividend of at least 16.46 fils per share, equivalent to AED 402 million for the full 2023 fiscal year, representing a 2% increase from the previous year. This underscores Yahsat's commitment to providing attractive shareholder returns, with an annualized dividend yield of nearly 6.5% for 2023, making it one of the highest offered by a listed stock in the UAE. The second and final dividend for 2023 is anticipated to be paid in May 2024, subject to board recommendation and shareholder approval at the next annual general assembly. Yahsat's Chairman, Musabbeh Al Kaabi, highlighted the company's strong financial position and its unique status as a listed stock in the UAE's space industry. The company's CEO, Ali Al Hashemi, emphasised their growth plans, including satellite launches, government contracts, and the expansion of their solutions portfolio.
Oman Leverages its Unique Geographical Position to become a Key Middle East Space Actor
Oman is making strategic moves to become a player in the Middle Eastern space industry, leveraging its prime location at the Strait of Hormuz and a coastline along the Indian Ocean, vital for global maritime trade. Part of Oman Vision 2040, its plan is to develop a space sector focusing on telecommunications, earth observation, and ground infrastructure. Key among its initiatives is the construction of the Middle East's first space launch centre at Etlaq, near the port town of Duqm on the Indian Ocean coast. The Etlaq space base, overseen by the National Aerospace Services Company (NASCOM), aims to assemble, integrate, and test small satellites and micro-launchers. With its equatorial location at latitude 20°, it offers greater efficiency for launches compared to other commonly used spaceports. Oman is hosting the Middle East Space Conference in January 2024 to showcase its initiatives to international investors and firms and establish itself as a strategic gateway to space activity in the Middle East.
U.S. Think Tank Outlines Role of UAE Space Agency in Delivering Country’s Climate Change Goals
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is leveraging its space agency, the UAE Space Agency, to accelerate its journey to achieving net-zero emissions and combat climate change, according to a study carried out by Sussan Saikali of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW). The UAE Space Agency's mandate includes a focus on sustainable development, and its National Space Strategy 2030 includes investments and developments aimed at advancing technology and research on sustainability. The agency has also cooperated with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment to develop strategies to combat climate change, including funding proposals addressing climate change and food security using space data. They have launched the Space Data Centre, a digital platform providing access to space data for sustainability solutions and have initiated projects focused on climate challenges such as air quality, infrastructure monitoring, and loss and damage tracking using satellite data. By collaborating with advanced technology sectors, the UAE Space Agency aims to improve agricultural development, observe weather patterns, sea levels, and monitor greenhouse gas emissions. Other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman are also working on space-related initiatives to address climate change. Despite criticism, the UAE and its neighboring Gulf countries continue to invest in efforts to combat climate change, with the UAE government planning significant investments in clean and renewable energy over the next 30 years, positioning the country as a hub for climate technology and research.
Profile of Israel’s WeSpace Technologies Lunar Ambitions, Selected for ESRIC Start-Up Accelerator Programme
Israeli start-up WeSpace Technologies has been chosen as one of five companies to participate in the ESRIC programme, a collaborative initiative by the Luxembourg government and the European Space Agency (ESA) aimed at supporting space-sector start-ups. WeSpace's project involves developing autonomous Moon-surface drones known as "Hoppers" that use rocket propulsion due to the Moon's lack of atmosphere. Led by Yigal Harel, former head of the space programme at SpaceIL, the drones feature an advanced navigation and guidance system enabling autonomous flight even without direct communication with Earth. WeSpace plans to build drones powered by clean fuel derived from oxygen-enriched water and intends to produce drones of various sizes for tasks such as mapping the Moon's surface, identifying landing sites, and locating local resources like water ice. The company is also in discussions with a leading U.S. space company and has garnered interest from NASA for potential collaboration in mapping areas near the lunar south pole for the Artemis programme.
Yahsat Receives $5.1 Billion Mandate from UAE Government for Satellite Services Over 17 Years
Abu Dhabi's Yahsat has announced that its government services arm, Yahsat Government Solutions, has been awarded a mandate by the UAE government worth 18.7 billion dirhams ($5.1 billion) to provide satellite capacity and managed services for a period of 17 years. This mandate consolidates various services, including operations, maintenance, and technology management of ground segment satellite systems and terminals. The award involves an advance payment of $1 billion expected in 2024. Yahsat will deliver secure and reliable satellite capacity and managed services using its existing Al Yah-1 and Al Yah-2 satellites, along with two new satellites, Al Yah-4 and Al Yah-5, scheduled for launch in 2027 and 2028, respectively. Ali Al Hashemi, Yahsat CEO, highlighted the company's strong financial position and substantial contracted revenue backlog, which is over 16 times its annual revenues based on the backlog figures at the end of the second quarter.
I2U2 Group Unveil Earth Observation Collaboration
During the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the governments of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, also known as the I2U2 group and who are all signatories of the Artemis Accords, unveiled a collaborative space project within the I2U2 group's space focus area. This venture is centred on harnessing space-based Earth observation data and capabilities from these partner countries to develop an innovative space-based tool. This tool will be utilised by policymakers, institutions, and entrepreneurs to address environmental and climate change challenges. The initiative represents a significant step in fostering cooperation among these countries in the application of space data for the betterment of global environmental and societal issues.
UAE’s EDGE Group Partners with Bulgarian Satellite Components Company
UAE defence conglomerate EDGE Group has entered into two separate agreements with Bulgarian entities as part of its efforts to enhance its portfolio and expand its presence in the Eastern European market. EDGE has partnered with TBS, an international trading company specialising in advanced technological solutions for land, air, and space security, and Samel-90, a manufacturer of high-performance electronic communications equipment and systems, including satellite components. These collaborations align with EDGE's growth strategy and its goal to establish global partnerships that support the development of defence and satellite technology capabilities.
SpaceX Applies for Operating License for Starlink Services in Türkiye
SpaceX, the operator of the Starlink broadband-from-space service, has applied for a global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS) license in Türkiye. This application follows a meeting between SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in New York, during which Musk sought permission to operate Starlink in Türkiye. In response, Erdoğan requested that Musk consider opening a Tesla factory in Türkiye. It remains uncertain whether the Turkish government, known for internet restrictions, will approve Starlink's operation in the country. Starlink, with its rapidly growing network of over 4,000 satellites, has been providing satellite communications, including to Ukraine for its war efforts and to protestors in Iran despite Iranian government objections.
Turkish Aerospace Industries Satellite Programmes Advance in SATCOM’s and Earth Observation
Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc. (TAI) is expanding its satellite missions beyond its national communications satellite Türksat-6A. TAI has developed the Small Size GEO Satellite telecommunication satellite platform, which is electric and lightweight, making it cost-effective to launch and deploy quickly. This platform is being used to create a satellite for Argentina's operator ARSAT, designed for high-capacity data and communication transfer in the Ka-band. TAI is also working on the Göktürk Renewal satellite to replace the soon-to-expire Göktürk-1 high-resolution Earth observation satellite, scheduled for launch in 2027. Additionally, the company is exploring commercial activities with small and cost-effective observation satellites for agriculture, forestry, and urban planning applications.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
The UAE’s e& receives a Tier 4 certification from the World Teleport Association’s (WTA) Teleport Certification Programme for the company’s teleports at Tawi Al Saman, Sharjah, and at Jebel Ali, Dubai;
Egyptian businessman Ali Baghdadi backs a UK venture developing a reusable launch vehicle;
The UAE and Armenia signed four business MoU’s and expressed interest in future space cooperation.
UAE’s Sarah Al Amiri Outlines Country’s Space Ambitions in American Interview
Tony Ho Tran of U.S. media outlet The Daily Beast interviews Sarah Al Amiri, the Minister of State for Science and the first chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency (UAESA), who discusses the UAESA's ambitious space projects, including missions to Mars, the Moon, and the Asteroid Belt. She highlights the significance of these endeavours in terms of scientific potential and technological capabilities. Al Amiri also emphasises the importance of collaboration with the private sector in advancing space exploration and technological innovation. In addition, she shares her belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life and discusses the challenges of interstellar travel.
Can Satellite-Enabled Internet Access Overcome Repressive Authoritarian Rule in Countries Like Iran?
Pouria Nazemi, an Iranian-Canadian journalist, writes in Scientific American, about the critical importance of Internet access, particularly in repressive regimes like Iran, where access to information is often tightly controlled. The death of Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini triggered protests against police brutality and women's rights, leading to the Iranian government shutting down Internet access and restricting information flow through social media during the unrest. The author argues that Internet access is a fundamental right, preserving freedom of thought, movement, and knowledge, and that satellite Internet, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, can play a crucial role in ensuring autonomy and freedom, especially during government-imposed shutdowns. The article calls on Western governments and NGOs to incentivise and insist on satellite providers offering simple Internet access to people experiencing communication shutdowns. It also discusses the importance of educating the public about satellite Internet and mitigating the spread of misinformation.
The Role of Satellite Communications in Expanding 5G Coverage in the Gulf Cooperation Council
In SatellitePro Middle East, Saurabh Gupta, Chief Technology Officer of Beyon, writes that satellite-enabled 5G is gaining significance in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, offering comprehensive coverage for high-speed internet and mobile services in remote and underserved areas, as well as for disaster response. Low Earth orbit (LEO) communications satellites are particularly well-suited for enabling 5G due to their relatively lower latency and faster data transmission. The GCC, one of the world's fastest-growing regions for 5G adoption, is expected to have 75% of subscribers using 5G by 2027. Satellite technology is crucial for filling coverage gaps in challenging geographies like deserts and rural locations and can serve industries such as oil and gas, where expansive territories require cost-effective connectivity. Additionally, satellite-enabled 5G ensures reliable communication during emergencies and offers enhanced bandwidth for novel user experiences like cloud gaming and drone delivery. Integrating satellite technology with 5G will be pivotal for achieving comprehensive and advanced connectivity in the GCC.
Israel: The Space Startup Nation
Israel's journey in space has been remarkable, driven by a combination of government support, private sector innovation, and a strong focus on education and talent development, writes Shelli Brunswick of the Space Foundation in Space News. Despite its small size and population, Israel has achieved notable milestones, including becoming the fourth country to reach the Moon with the privately funded Beresheet mission and developing domestic satellite capabilities. The Israel Space Agency (ISA) plays a crucial role in supporting the growth of the space ecosystem, providing funding, infrastructure, and connections between government demand and private sector capabilities. Furthermore, Israel's private space sector, with strengths in satellite development and operation, communication services, and remote sensing, is increasingly looking to global markets for growth. Israel's commitment to STEM education and gender equity in STEM fields has also contributed to its success in space, with programmes like She Space and WeSpace fostering interest in space and science among young students, particularly girls. Overall, Israel's innovative and collaborative approach to space is setting the country apart in the global space community.
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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