Middle East Space Roundup: 2 to 8 April 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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3 April 2023
Thuraya, a subsidiary of Yahsat - the premier commercial satellite communications provider in the UAE - is providing a $17.5 million convertible loan to Switzerland’s Internet of Things (IoT) satellite operator Astrocast. The two companies have agreed on terms for the convertible loan whereby Thuraya could turn into shares at some point in the future. Astrocast has struggled over the past year to secure funding for the expansion of its low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network from its current 18 satellites to 100 satellites by 2025. Since 2019 Thuraya has provided Astrocast with its valuable L-Band spectrum so that the Swiss company can connect with IoT devices. Yahsat CEO Ali Al Hashemi said that the two companies are looking for “ways to expand our service offering across GEO and LEO,” to tap a satellite-enabled IoT market valued at $6 billion over the next four years alone. As things stand, Astrocast has said that it needed to raise 43 million Swiss Francs by the end of 2022 to keep its plans for a 100 satellite constellation by 2025 on track.
Iran’s Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, lauds the achievements of the country’s military space programme in remarks made at a meeting of senior Iranian military officers. "Launching numerous satellites and placing them in orbit was another achievement made by the armed forces last year. We now have two satellites in space that transmit the necessary information and data each day," said Bagheri, referring to the two cubesats launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) over the past several years. Noor-1, a 6U Earth observation Cubesat was launched on 22 April 2020 by a solid-fueled Qassed launch vehicle from an IRGC base in northern Iran. According to US military authorities Noor-1 failed to operate soon after reaching orbit. Noor-2, also launched by the IRGC on a Qassed launch vehicle on 8 March 2022 is though to be still operational but operationally limited due to its very low resolution.
According to French online news publication Intelligence Online, a prominent former defence official in Saudi Arabia, Abdulrahman Bin Muhawes, is hired as a consultant for China’s Norinco, a defence and space company that manufactures military communications and Earth observation satellites. Intelligence Online has previously reported that Norinco is eager to sell its military satellites, that include high-resolution optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellites, to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defence.
4 April 2023
Tactical Report claims that the United Arab Emirates and China are in discussions about the acquisition of a version of the DFH-3E communications satellite. The Lebanon-based publication says that UAE officials have met with officials from China’s Ministry of National Defence and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) regarding the acquisition of an APSTAR-6E communication satellite that is based on the DFH-3E satellite. According to Tactical Report, Emirati officials expressed interest in the APSTAR-6E while visiting the Zhuhai Airshow in 2022, as well as during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UAE in February 2022. It is understood that CASC has delivered a presentation on the DFH-3E satellite to the UAE, but as yet no decision has been made. Curiously, Tactical Report has not revealed the affiliation of these Emirati officials said to be in discussions with the Chinese.
5 April 2023
Satellite communications operator Arabsat, headquartered in Saudi Arabia, says that a temporary outage of its Badr-6 communications satellite (also called Arabsat-4AR) on 6 February 2023 was as due an issue with one of the thrusters on board the aging satellite. Badr-6, launched in July 2008, is approaching the end of its 15-year design life and the cause of the thruster failure is still being investigated, according to Arabsat executive Abdulhadi Al Hassani in a conversation with Space News. The outage occurred for several hours on 6 February but the majority of customers did not notice as the services were immediately transferred to a nearby satellite. A replacement for the Badr-6 satellite, Badr-8, is expected to be launched in May 2023 by a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and is expected to be operational by the end of 2023.
During a session at the United Nation’s Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland, First Counselor from Iran’s Permanent Mission to the UN, Heidar Ali Balouji, delivered a statement calling for the end to an arms race in outer space. “Iran believes that outer space and other celestial bodies are humanity's common heritage and must be used only for peaceful purposes for the benefit of all countries. The prevention of an arms race in outer space can be a first step towards achieving this goal and averting a severe threat to international peace and security. Therefore, further measures, including a legally binding instrument with appropriate and effective verification provisions, should be developed promptly by the CD [Conference on Disarmament],” said Balouji. “We are deeply concerned about the increasing threat of weaponizing outer space, including the negative implications of the development and deployment of anti-ballistic missile defense systems and the pursuit of advanced military technologies capable of being deployed in outer space. The US activities and those of other actors contribute to the further weakening of an international climate conducive to the promotion of disarmament and the strengthening of international security,” he added. The Iranian diplomat was silent on Iran’s own military space programme, lauded by Major General Mohammad Hossein Beghari, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, earlier in the week and mentioned above.
Russia’s Moscow State University is in talks to build and launch a Cubesat for Iran, as well as deploying a ground station there, according to the Dean of Faculty of Space Research at MSU, Vasiliy Sazonov, who is quoted in Sputnik International.
6 April 2023
UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi is scheduled to conduct a spacewalk, known more formally as extra-vehicular activity (EVA), on 28 April 2023 along with NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen. The EVA is expected to last for approximately six and a half hours and is intended to replace communication equipment on the exterior of the International Space Station’s orbital science laboratory. What is notable about this EVA is that it will be the first time for an Arab astronaut to undertake a spacewalk, and also the first time that an astronaut representing a non-partner country of the ISS. The United Arab Emirates is not a formal partner of the ISS that is comprised of the United States, Canada, Russia, European Space Agency, and Japan. Al Neyadi has been selected by NASA for the EVA and has been trained for spacewalks since 2020.
7 April 2023
SpaceX and Axiom Space announce that the private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, AX-2, will launch on 8 May 2023 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The AX-2 crew includes Peggy Whitson, commander, John Shoffner, pilot, and mission specialists Rayyanah Barnawi, who will be the first ever Arab woman to go to space, and Ali Al Qarni - both from Saudi Arabia. Barnawi and Al Qarni are the first Saudi astronauts to go to orbit since Prince Sultan Bin Salman’s 1985 mission on board a U.S. space shuttle. The announcement coincides with comments from Mishael Ashemimry, head of microgravity research at the Saudi Space Commission, who says that the Kingdom intends to build its own astronaut corps and that subsequent Saudi human spaceflight missions after the AX-2 mission will include long-duration astronaut missions on board the International Space Station, similar to the current mission being undertaken by UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.
8 April 2023
The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has completed its preparations to launch its second nanosatellite, DEWASAT-2, later in April 2023 by a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. DEWASAT-2 is a 6U Earth observation nanosatellite with a resolution of 4.7 metres and is part of DEWA’s Space-D programme. DEWASAT-1 was launched in January 2022 to provide LoRa Internet of Things (IoT) services. Like DEWASAT-1, DEWASAT-2 is built for DEWA by Lithuanian satellite manufacturer NanoAvionics. DEWASAT-2 will provide continuous line-scan imaging in seven spectral bands from an orbit of 500 kilometers altitude. It is also equipped with infrared sensors to measure greenhouse gases. Overall, DEWASAT-1 and -2 enable DEWA to improve its operational performance of power generation and water desalination plants by providing estimates of seawater temperatures, salinity, and detection of red tide - the rapid accumulation of algae blooms in sea water.
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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