Middle East Space Roundup: 19-25 February 2023
A summary of all the space news in the Greater Middle East over the past week
The following are the major space developments in the Greater Middle East region tracked by Middle East Space Monitor over the past week:
19 February 2023
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Israel’s Air and Space Force is developing its ‘Space Administration’ with new reporting suggesting that it will be commanded by an Israel Defence Force (IDF) officer with the field grade rank of lieutenant colonel. The IASF’s Space Administration is reportedly being tasked to use space “in ways that cannot be detailed,” strongly suggesting that it will develop tactics, techniques, and procedures for Israeli reconnaissance and communication satellites and other space capabilities that will have to be kept classified. While the IDF use of satellites is central to its way of warfare, it has been operating them in a relatively permissive space environment over the region. More recently, however, Israeli adversaries such as Iran are developing counterspace capabilities - albeit rudimentary ones - and are taking more sophisticated steps to counter Israeli reconnaissance from space. Moreover, more regional actors are developing their own reconnaissance and communication national security space capabilities.
20 February 2023
The CEO of the Saudi Space Commission, Dr. Mohammed Al Tamimi, sets out the broad agenda for the Kingdom’s space ambitions in an opinion piece published in several English-language Arab news outlets. Written after the announcement of the Saudi astronauts Rayannah Barnawi and Al Al Qarni a week prior, Dr. Al Tamimi emphasises that Saudi space policy is couched within the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 agenda. He further notes that the Saudi human spaceflight programme will inspire more young Saudis to take up science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects at school and university to build out a cadre of scientists and engineers to fulfil Saudi ambitions in space. Dr. Al Tamimi also writes that with the space economy expected to be valued at one trillion dollars by 2030 Saudi Arabia seeks to be a full participant in a range of commercial space activities in the coming years. Importantly, Dr. Al Tamimi writes that “the international community will have to work together more closely on developing a global governance framework that is fit for purpose,” and that “managing space debris and extraterrestrial resources calls for even more comprehensive agreements.”
21 February 2023
The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) in the UAE is preparing for the launch of its second satellite, DEWASAT-2, later this year. A DEWA delegation visited the facilities of the DEWASAT-2 manufacturer, NanoAvionics, in Lithuania to observe some tests conducted on the 6U nanosatellite. DEWASAT-2 will be the second DEWA satellite that is part its Space-D programme, with DEWASAT-1 successfully launched in January 2022. The DEWASAT satellites are designed to supplement the ground-based Internet of Things (IoT) network being developed in Dubai as part of its ongoing drive to digitise utilities and infrastructure. In addition, DEWASAT-2 will carry a 4.7 metre resolution camera for Earth observation as well as an infrared sensor for monitoring the emission of green houses gasses.
22 February 2023
Israel’s Ultraviolet Transient Astronomy Satellite (ULTRASAT) space telescope will be launched in 2026 by the U.S. space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Israels Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology, the ministry that oversees the Israel Space Agency, signed a partnership agreement with NASA that sees the American space agency not only launching the ULTRASAT mission but also participating in analysing the scientific data it will collect. The ULTRASAT mission is ran by the Israel Space Agency and the Weizmann Institute of Science and is designed to observe transient events in the universe such as the merger of neutron stars and supernova explosions. ULTRASAT’s bus is being built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the telescope is being built by Elbit Systems Electro-Optics, with the telescope’s camera built by the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) research centre in Hamburg, Germany. The ULTRASAT mission is expected to cost $90 million.
U.S. online defence news outlet Breaking Defense interviewed Michael Coulter, a senior executive with Italian defence and aerospace company Leonardo DRS, in which he says the company in active discussions with the UAE Space Agency to provide Earth observation sensors.
Azerbaijan’s Azercosmos holds talks in Baku with the European Union’s Representative to Azerbaijan on space cooperation. The head of Azercomos, Samaddin Asamov, met with the EU’s Peter Michalko and discussed furthering space cooperation between Azerbaijan and Europe. The two sides are already cooperating on the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) programme. Asamov expressed his hope that the International Astronautical Congress to be held in Baku in October 2023 will provide the forum for expanded space cooperation initiatives with European countries.
UAE hosts the first Business Forum meeting of the India, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and United States (I2U2) initiative that was inaugurated in July 2022. The I2U2 group was established to increase economic growth and trade between the four countries as well as bolster the Abraham Accords. The I2U2 initiative focuses on joint investments and new initiatives in water, energy, transportation, space, health, and food security. The Abu Dhabi meeting of vice-ministers and business delegations included discussions on space cooperation for tackling climate change.
23 February 2023
Israeli geospatial analytics company Asterra is considering acquiring its own synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellite as it struggles to compete with governments to acquire scarce SAR imagery. Asterra co-founder and chief technology officer, Lauren Guy, told Space News that since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 the company has found it increasingly difficult to consistently acquire SAR imagery from commercial satellite companies as governments have been using their financial clout to buy up all imagery for security purposes. Asterra offers geospatial intelligence to companies and governments on everything from soil moisture and flood defences through to oil and gas leaks, all of which require consistent and regular satellite data flows that are no longer available. As a result Asterra is now considering its own SAR Earth observation satellite in order to ensure the provision of its own services.
During a bilateral meeting between South Korean defence minister Lee Jong-sup and his UAE counterpart, Mohammed Ahmed Al Bowardi, the issue of military space cooperation was reportedly discussed. Lee Jong-sup was in Abu Dhabi to attend the 2023 edition of the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX). The UAE and South Korea are treaty allies.
At the 2023 edition of the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s Yahsat and Bayanat signed a memorandum of understanding to build Earth observation satellites in the country. The strategic partnership is aimed at establishing and operating an Earth observation partnership within the UAE which includes synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and optical imagery satellite capabilities. The MoU intends to consolidate the companies’ competencies leading to in-country manufacturing and managed services. Bayanat, the UAE’s AI-enabled geospatial analytics company, possesses deep expertise in Earth observation while Yahsat, best known for its communications satellite fleet, brings its experience in satellite manufacturing and data sales to the table. The MoU appears to be an attempt t address the UAE government’s July 2022 announcement that it intends to develop its Sirb SAR Earth observation satellite constellation.
24 February 2023
Former American space shuttle astronaut Garrett Reisman refuses to participate in the International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan, to be held in October 2023 due to the country’s involvement in the armed conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Reisman, now a consultant to SpaceX and a Professor of Astronautics at the University of Southern California, wrote: “Why is the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) being held in Azerbaijan, a country that is guilty of recent military aggression against its neighbor Armenia? Azerbaijan is one of the most corrupt countries, it has one of the worst human rights indicators in Europe. I will not go, and if you are planning to go, please reconsider.”
With Russian assistance, Iran intends to send its first astronaut into space and build its own positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) satellites as part of its ten-year strategic space plan first announced by the Supreme Space Council in January 2023. In an Op-Ed published on the Amwaj Media website, analyst Vali Kaleji extolled the December 2022 cooperation agreement between Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos and the Iran Space Agency, arguing that it will not only allow Iran to achieve many of its goals outlined in the 10-year strategic space plan but is also of geopolitical benefit to both Tehran and Moscow.
The UAE’s Yahsat is expected to choose vendors for the Al Yah-4 and Al Yah-5 communication satellites sometime in. 2023, according to Eisa Al Shamsi, General Manager of Yahsat Government Solutions, in a report by open source intelligence company Jane’s. According to Al Shamsi, Yahsat is currently reviewing and assessing bids from several satellite manufacturers for the construction of the Al Yah-4 and -5 satellites. Yahsat needs to make a decision soon this year in order for the manufacturing and launch of the two new satellites to take place by 2026 when the Al Yah-1 and Al Yah-2 satellites are expected to reach the end of their operational lifetimes. In order to mitigate risk an off-the-shelf satellite solution is being sought.
Executive attending IDEX 2023 from Spain’s largest satellite operator Hisdesat report that UAE end-users are satisfied with the satellite data and imagery they receive from the Paz synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellite. They also claim that the UAE Armed Forces are considering using the two next-generation secure SpainSat communication satellites, the first of which is expected to be launched in 2024..
UAE Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of UAE Space Agency, Sarah Al Amiri, reiterates her call to keep geopolitics out of space at a Washington, DC, roundtable hosted by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) think-tank. Ms. Al Amiri also repeated her call for reform of the global space governance regime in order to more adequately address new challenges such as space debris and the growing commercialisation of the space domain.
25 February 2023
In fiery remarks to an Iranian audience, the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Major General Hossein Salami, claims that Iran now has ground-based radars capable of tracking satellites. “Today, we can intercept satellites with the help of radars positioned on the ground,” Salami stated.
China launches Egypt’s Horus-1 Earth observation satellite from its Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on board a Long March 2C launch vehicle. The Earth observation satellite, also called Helusi-1, was built by engineers from Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSSS) along with Chinese small satellite manufacturer DFH Satellite. Egypt reportedly ordered the satellite from DFH in 2019 and it was initially expected to be launched in December 2022. In an interview with Egyptian media, the CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency, Sherif Sedky, said that the Horus-1 Earth observation satellite is expected to the first of several satellites built by the Sino-Egyptian team, with the aim of having a number of them manufactured in Egypt. “There is great cooperation between Egypt and China in the field of space and launching satellites, and we are also establishing a center for assembling, integrating and testing satellites…(The) Horus 1 satellite is the beginning of a group of remote sensing satellites, and it is being developed through the full participation of a team of Egyptian and Chinese experts, to localize satellite manufacturing technology,” Sedky said.
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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