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Middle East Space Roundup: 20 to 26 August 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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Saudi Arabia’s Aljazira Capital Leads $350 Million Funding Round for Axiom Space
Houston-based Axiom Space has secured $350 million in a Series C funding round, led by Saudi Arabia’s investment firm Aljazira Capital and South Korean pharmaceutical company Boryung Co., Ltd. The round also included support from diverse backers such as venture capital funds and strategic brand partners. Axiom Space aims to continue developing its commercial space station, with plans to install commercial modules on the International Space Station (ISS) by 2026, forming the core of a standalone space station after separating from the ISS. The company has already conducted private astronaut missions to the ISS and secured contracts from NASA for spacesuit development. This Series C round takes Axiom's total funding raised to over $505 million, aiding its mission to advance human spaceflight and establish a thriving commercial space presence.
Saudi Arabia’s Quant Data & Analytics Partners with Satellogic for Saudi Real Estate Data Intelligence
Argentina’s Satellogic, a company specialising in high-resolution Earth observation satellites and imagery, has entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Quant Data & Analytics, a data solutions provider for real estate and retail sectors. The collaboration aims to leverage Satellogic's satellite imagery to enhance Quant's real estate platform, Suhail, and its Location Intelligence tool powered by Fruits360, catering to the property tech landscape in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. The integration of Satellogic's imagery will aid in monitoring urban development and ensuring compliance with environmental and zoning regulations. Caitlin Kontgis, Satellogic’s senior vice president of Commercial and Growth, highlighted the significance of this partnership for Quant's innovative approach to real estate and retail, underscoring the need for high-resolution, frequent revisits, and cost-effective Earth observation data for their initiatives.
Bahrain to Host Middle East Space Generation Workshop, Reports Advances in Key Space Projects
Bahrain is set to host the second Middle East Space Generation Workshop (ME-SGW) on 6-7 September 2023, in partnership with Bahrain's National Space Science Agency (NSSA). The event, aimed at fostering discussions among young professionals, academia, industry experts, and space agencies, will centre around advancing the regional space industry. The workshop will feature panel discussions, workshops, and speeches addressing topics such as space education, entrepreneurship, women in space, engagement with younger generations, and space infrastructure. The NSSA seeks participation from individuals aged 18 to 35 who are passionate about the space sector, with the goal of producing recommendations to shape the Middle Eastern space industry's future. The event comes as NSSA completes multiple projects, including those aiding Bahrain's COP26 commitments and constructing Bahrain's first home-built satellite, Al Munther.
Azerbaijan Repeats Accusations that Armenian Armed Groups are Jamming GPS Signals in Nagorno-Karabakh
Azerbaijan has repeated accusations that Armenian armed groups in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of intensifying the use of radio-frequency interference against GPS satellite navigation systems of passenger aircraft flying through the airspace of Azerbaijan. This interference led to a failure in the GPS system of an ATR-45 type passenger aircraft belonging to Azerbaijan Airlines. The Azerbaijani defence ministry informed the command of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the region about the situation, but no actions were taken to address it. If Azerbaijani accusations are true then this interference is a threat to the safety of civil aviation and goes against the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia persist since the two countries fought over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh with sporadic clashes despite a Russia-brokered peace agreement in 2020.
Iran Announces Development of Sareer Satellite Launch Vehicle for Geostationary Orbit
Iran has initiated the construction of the Sareer satellite launch vehicle, capable of reaching a 36,000-kilometre altitude geostationary orbit (GEO), as announced by Ahmad Hosseini Mounes, the spokesperson for Iran's defence ministry's Space Division. This progress in space technology was highlighted during a programme commemorating Iran’s defence industry week. Hosseini Mounes emphasised Iran's advancement in aerospace technology through domestic capabilities and the efforts of scientists. He detailed the significance of space highlighting its integration into various aspects of human life like agriculture, disaster management, meteorology, communication, and navigation. He also mentioned Iran's capability in satellite launch with the Safir SLV in 2008 and outlined the role of Iran’s Space High Council, the Iranian Space Agency, and various entities involved in satellite development. Hosseini Mounes provided insights into the Sareer satellite launch vehicle's development and is optimistic about its inaugural launch within the next two to three years.
U.S. Space Company Orion AST Establishes Regional Presence in Dubai
The UAE’s Dubai International Chamber, a component of Dubai Chambers, has facilitated the establishment of the Middle East and Africa (MEA) regional headquarters for Orion Applied Sciences and Technology (OrionAST) in Dubai Silicon Oasis. OrionAST, a global provider of high-resolution satellite data, is valued at around $100 million and specialises in the 'Satellite-as-a-Service' concept, with satellites supporting diverse uses like crop monitoring, infrastructure monitoring, emergency management, and environmental monitoring. Dubai's business advantages and supportive environment were pivotal in attracting OrionAST, aligning with Dubai Chamber's strategic priorities of attracting investments to the emirate. Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, CEO of Dubai Chambers, emphasised the significance of OrionAST's presence in enhancing Dubai's position as a global business hub. The MEA headquarters in Dubai is expected to open up new markets for OrionAST, in addition to benefiting from partnerships and investments in the region.
Kuwait Participates in Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah
The Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) and members of the initial Kuwaiti satellite team (KuwaitSat-1) participated in the Small Satellite Conference hosted by the Utah State University. During the conference, they comprehensively discussed the evolution of KuwaitSat-1, the first Kuwaiti satellite, from its conceptualisation to launch. KFAS supported and financed the Kuwaiti team's involvement in the conference, with the aim of highlighting Kuwait's achievements in the satellite project. KuwaitSat-1 is a collaboration between Kuwait University, government bodies including the Communications and Information Technology Regulatory Authority, the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, and the Environment Public Authority. The team presented a scientific paper detailing the satellite's journey, covering design, launch, signal analysis, and data capture, which included Kuwait's first image from space. The conference focused on various topics about small satellite technology and its applications, gathering around 4,000 participants from across the globe.
UAE’s Bayanat Touts SAR Earth Observation Satellite Capability for Abu Dhabi Smart City Applications
The UAE’s Bayanat, a provider of artificial intelligence-powered geospatial data products and services, anticipates that its recent deal with Yahsat and ICEYE for synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellites and its pilot programme for self-driving vehicles will significantly contribute to Abu Dhabi’s smart city aspirations. As part of its mission to bolster smart city infrastructure, Bayanat, majority-owned by G42, aims to position Abu Dhabi as a global leader. The company's collaboration with Yahsat and Iceye has yielded a satellite programme focused on national earth observation capabilities, with the first satellite launch set for Q1 2024. This programme is projected to have vast commercial applications, particularly in the fields of geospatial intelligence and smart mobility.
Iran to Launch at Least Two Satellites by March 2024: Defence Minister
Iran's defence minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani has unveiled plans for the launch of at least two domestically-produced satellites into orbit by 19 March 2024. Ashtiani praised the collaborative efforts among various organisations in developing satellites and satellite launch vehicles, including the Simorgh SLV. Despite Western sanctions, Iran has achieved significant progress in its civilian space programme, positioning itself as one of the top ten countries worldwide capable of launching satellites.
Middle East Countries Invited to Join BRICS, Door Open to Participate in Space Projects
The Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) economic group has invited six countries to join the bloc as of 1 January 2024. Of these six countries, four are Middle Eastern powers - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates (the other two countries are Argentina and Ethiopia). The main objective of BRICS is to foster trade among its members and create an alternate financial system that does not rely on the U.S. dollar. Other activities include economic and infrastructure development, including a long-proposed Earth observation satellite constellation for exclusive use by BRICS member states, but which faces technical and political challenges. Additionally, at the BRICS Summit in South Africa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a BRICS Space Exploration Consortium for member states. For Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and the UAE, ascending to BRICS membership not only confers economic and diplomatic benefits but perhaps also an opportunity for their respective space and Earth observation programmes.
Middle East Countries Congratulate India on Successful Chandrayaan-3 Moon Landing, Highlighting Space Cooperation
Leaders from Israel, Oman, Bahrain, Iran, and the UAE, among others, have offered their congratulations to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the successful soft landing of the Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander near the Moon’s south pole. More than mere words, these messages of goodwill reflect India’s growing geopolitical and space influence throughout the Middle East region. The successful Moon landing has already sparked regional interest in cooperating with India on future space missions, with apparently Saudi Arabia expressing a strong desire for collaboration, along with Singapore and South Korea.
Space Increasingly Part of Ongoing Dispute Between Armenia and Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan has officially acknowledged its use of Earth observation satellites for surveillance of Armenia's activities. The "Report on space monitoring of extractive mines in the Republic of Armenia" focuses on the outcomes of similar surveillance endeavours in the mining sector. The report asserts that Armenia's mining industry, which lacks compliance with environmental norms, is causing significant ecological harm. Azerbaijan underscores the impact of Armenia's mining activities on its own environment, especially as around 70 percent of Azerbaijan's surface water resources originate in neighboring countries through transboundary water flows. The report cites the 1997 Espoo Convention, of which both Azerbaijan and Armenia are signatories, requiring consultation and consent on activities with potential transboundary environmental effects. For Armenia, this acknowledgment implies that Azerbaijan should also be prepared to be held accountable by Armenia for activities of mutual interest, revealing complexities in the regional application of the Espoo Convention.
Regional Space Diplomacy
Among the other regional space diplomacy engagements and agreements over the past week are:
Profile of Israel’s ImageSat International’s New Class of Earth Observation Satellite Built for Chile
Journalist Israel Wullman provides an interesting profile in YnetNews.com of the RUNNER-1 Earth observation satellite developed in Israel for the Chilean government. On 13 June 2023, Israel launched RUNNER-1 from the Vandenberg U.S. Space Force Base via Elon Musk's SpaceX, commencing a groundbreaking project led by Chile and Israeli commercial Earth observation satellite and imagery company ImageSat International (ISI). Weighing under 90 kg., RUNNER 1 is part of Chile's ambitious space project aimed at fostering technological education and space-based solutions. The project encompasses various sub-projects including technological education, satellite communications, agricultural advancements, weather alerts, disaster management, and military intelligence. ISI, selected as the main contractor, is playing a crucial role in this initiative. The RUNNER-1 satellite, the first to be launched, is the world's initial imaging satellite designed with an optical system for capturing video in full colour, positioned at an altitude of around 550 kilometres. ISI is expected to launch two more similar mini-satellites in the coming years, followed by additional microsatellites. The Chilean collaboration showcases a shift towards more accessible and versatile satellite technology with numerous potential applications ranging from agriculture to security.
Middle East Space Programmes and Regional Security
Elia Preto Martini writes in Diplomatic Courier that nascent Middle Eastern space programmes could moon evolve into capabilities that might be integrated into wider military systems and so further compound regional instability and insecurity. In late May 2023, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) unveiled an ambitious space exploration plan focused on the Asteroid Belt, with the spacecraft MBR set to launch in 2028 to explore six asteroids. This endeavour represents the UAE's continuous pursuit of technological excellence in space exploration. The UAE has progressively developed an impressive space programme over the past 15 years, notably achieving success with its Hope Probe mission to study Mars' atmosphere in 2021. The country's vision extends to establishing the first human colony on Mars by 2117. This initiative has geopolitical implications, as the Middle East experiences a space race involving countries like Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Space programmes are leveraged for economic diversification and military advancement, as countries increasingly recognise the significance of space capabilities in achieving military dominance. As these developments unfold, the potential integration of space forces into regional military strategies may exacerbate conflicts and create complex geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East.
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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