Middle East Space Roundup: 22 to 28 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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UAE’s MBZ-SAT Will Showcase Most Advanced Earth Observation Capabilities in the Region
MBZ-SAT, named in honour of UAE President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, represents a significant advancement in Earth observation satellites for the UAE. This state-of-the-art satellite is designed to offer high-accuracy, high-resolution imaging capabilities, with a focus on monitoring environmental changes, water quality, and supporting agricultural development. It stands out with its automated image arrangement system, ensuring top-tier satellite images for global commercial use. This project marks a pivotal collaboration between the UAE's public and private sectors in the space industry, solidifying the country's presence in the Earth observation sector. As the fourth Earth observation satellite developed and launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), MBZ-SAT expands the centre's imaging technology portfolio, catering to governmental and commercial entities worldwide. It will fulfill the increasing commercial demand for highly detailed satellite imagery, enhancing the capacity for capturing minute details within less than one square meter. Furthermore, its rapid data analysis and sharing capabilities will provide valuable insights to both local and international users, while its advanced features, such as improved image capture resolution and faster data transmission, set it apart from its predecessors. With the ability to detect a broader range of elements, both natural and human-made, with higher precision and resolution, MBZ-SAT heralds a new era in Earth observation technology.
UAE’s MBRSC Holds Inaugural Space Life Sciences Meeting
The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) hosted the inaugural UAE Space Life Sciences Meeting, which served as a significant gathering for the scientific community. This meeting brought together professors and researchers from local and international universities, including institutions like Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, the United Arab Emirates University, American University of Sharjah, Khalifa University, and the University of Malta. The event covered diverse topics, including a detailed overview of Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi's historic Arab space mission, UAE Mission 2. This session delved into the scientific investigations conducted during his mission, emphasising its educational significance. The meeting also spotlighted MBRSC's commitment to advancing space life sciences through various programmes, such as the UAE Astronaut Programme Research Grants and collaborations with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for the Protein Crystal Growth Programme. Additionally, it provided a platform for research collaborators to showcase their contributions, featuring noteworthy projects like the Maleth Programme, Human Physiology Project, Oral Health Project, and Protein Crystal Growth studies. This event signifies the UAE's dedication to space science and its growing role in global space research endeavours.
Yahsat Subsidiaries Thuraya and YahClick to Provide Satellite Connectivity Solutions for South Sudan
Yahsat, the premier commercial satellite solutions provider in the UAE, has announced a significant partnership involving its mobility subsidiary, Thuraya Telecommunications, and satellite broadband solutions provider, YahClick. Together with South Sudanese start-up Gate for Technologies (G4T), they are set to launch mobility and data services in South Sudan, a move that holds substantial importance in the country's efforts to rebuild. By offering satellite-enabled connectivity solutions tailored to specific needs, this collaboration aims to serve various high-growth sectors in South Sudan, facilitating economic and digital transformation. The agreement involves Thuraya's satellite technology connecting remote communities, supporting telecommunications infrastructure development, and enabling e-government services, while Yahsat plans to provide essential connectivity to humanitarian agencies in underserved areas. This partnership underscores Yahsat's dedication to Africa and its commitment to fostering socio-economic development through reliable connectivity solutions.
South Korea’s President Expresses Hope for Space, Lunar Exploration Cooperation with Saudi Arabia
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol visited Saudi Arabia, where he explored the Kingdom's advancements in the digital economy, innovation, and space sector. Hosted at "The Garage" innovation hub by Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha, President Yoon praised Saudi Arabia's achievements in research, development, and innovation. He highlighted the importance of digitisation, clean energy, and space as key areas for collaboration, capable of influencing global industries and future growth. President Yoon also commended Saudi Arabia's smart city initiatives, envisioning potential partnerships between the private sectors of both countries. He expressed a desire to expand cooperation in space technology, including lunar exploration and satellite development, emphasising the potential for a strong partnership with global impact. Saudi Minister Al-Swaha emphasised the goal of global leadership in energy technologies and digital innovation as a foundation for the enduring bond between the two countries, outlining potential collaboration areas in various cutting-edge fields.
UN Fourth Committee Debates Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Chaired by the UAE and Contributions from Iran and Iraq
The United Nations’ Fourth Committee on Special Political and Decolonisation began its consideration of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space with a focus on maintaining outer space as a realm for international collaboration rather than an arena for an arms race. The session was chaired by the UAE and saw contributions from Iran and Iraq. The Chair of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Omran Sharaf of the United Arab Emirates, highlighted the record-breaking achievements in space exploration, emphasising the increasing importance of space tools like satellite communications, meteorological satellites, and navigation systems for sustainable development. He called for global governance of outer space and praised the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs for its role in capacity building, supporting regional space science centres, and maintaining the United Nations Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space. During the debate, delegates underlined the significance of preserving outer space for international cooperation and highlighted the various peaceful applications of space technology. In his statement, Mohammad Reza Sahraei of Iran emphasised the importance of adhering to the principle of non-interference in the peaceful activities of states related to outer space. He urged spacefaring nations to engage in knowledge-sharing initiatives and offer capacity-building and technical support to developing countries. Despite facing certain restrictions in accessing space, Iran is making strides in space activities, with plans to establish one of the largest space launch centres in Western Asia near Chabahar and the recent launch of its Earth observation satellite, Noor-3. Sahraei expressed concern about the growing problem of space debris and stressed that addressing this issue is a shared responsibility, suggesting that those responsible for creating space debris should bear the responsibility of its removal. He called on Member States to collectively examine the space debris problem and work toward a consensus on proposed measures. Mr. Al Sammak of Iraq underscored the vital role of international cooperation in outer space activities, emphasising its contribution to improving space-related data. Such data plays a crucial role in ensuring public services, especially in remote regions, and supports economic development through the surveying of natural resources and disaster prevention. Al Sammak highlighted the importance of early warning systems in saving lives and discussed the various applications of satellites in areas like forestry, agriculture, and combating desertification, ultimately benefiting the environment. However, he acknowledged the financial challenges faced by developing countries due to the rising costs of space technology. To address this issue, he called for enhanced international collaboration and ethical practices in outer space activities. Iraq is actively working on incorporating space technology into its educational curriculum and sought fellowships and training workshops to foster research and development in this field.
UAE’s Bayanat to Provide Geospatial Solutions to Xcalibur Multiphysics and Teledyne Geospatial
Bayanat, the UAE’s leading provider of AI-powered geospatial solutions, has signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Xcalibur Multiphysics and Teledyne Geospatial during the launch of the Smart & Autonomous Vehicle Industries (SAVI) Cluster in Abu Dhabi. The agreement with Teledyne Geospatial will focus on the development of autonomous survey technologies for geospatial data collection in various environments, including air, water surface, and underwater. This collaboration will leverage AI, edge computing, digital mapping, and digital twin technologies. Bayanat and Xcalibur Multiphysics will work on deploying a geophysical autonomous system to map natural resources in the UAE, with a focus on minerals, water resources, and energy potential. These partnerships aim to drive innovation across various sectors, including smart mobility, energy, national security, and environmental preservation. They are part of Abu Dhabi's efforts to advance geospatial and autonomous technologies and contribute to the SAVI Cluster's goals of fostering innovation in aviation and aerospace.
Saudi Space Agency Signs MoU with Korea Aerospace Industries
The Saudi Space Agency (SSA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to strengthen innovation in Saudi Arabia's space sector. This collaboration aims to explore investment opportunities and promote technological growth in the space industry, aligning with SSA's vision to accelerate its space initiatives. KAI, a renowned company in satellite development and manufacturing, will contribute its expertise to support SSA's space-related projects. The MoU signifies a commitment to advancing the global space sector and comes as an extension of SSA's visit to South Korea, emphasising international cooperation and knowledge exchange in space exploration and technology development.
UAE’s Thuraya Partners with nybl for AI and ML Solutions for Satellite Communications
Thuraya Telecommunications Company, a subsidiary of Yahsat, has signed an important Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with nybl, a prominent Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) platform headquartered in the UAE. The agreement outlines plans to introduce AI and ML-driven solutions via Thuraya and Yahsat satellites, representing a significant advancement for the satellite communication industry. nybl offers various sector-specific AI and ML modules, including those for Oil and Gas, Security and Surveillance, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. This collaboration aims to test, certify, and enable the nybl platform over Thuraya and Yahsat satellites, making these cutting-edge technologies accessible to end-users through a wide partner network. This initiative not only enhances Thuraya's solutions portfolio but also reinforces its commitment to innovation in the space industry. The partnership signifies a crucial step in introducing AI capabilities to the satellite communication sector, catering to the rapidly evolving industry's needs.
NEOM’s Tonomus Signs Agreement with STC Group for Satellite Connectivity in Saudi Arabia
Tonomus, the tech subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s mega project Neom, has entered into a multi-year agreement with STC Group for low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity in Saudi Arabia. This collaboration enables STC Group to utilise LEO satellite capacity to offer high-speed internet, data services, and business continuity solutions to various sectors, including oil and gas, mining, agritech, health, education, and finance. The partnership aims to significantly enhance connectivity services, particularly in rural and remote areas, providing residents with fiber-like internet access. This strategic move supports Saudi Arabia's goal of fostering a more connected and prosperous society while leveraging Neom's cognitive technologies. It also represents a crucial step in bridging the digital divide in underserved areas and promoting economic development.
Hong Kong’s ASPACE to Establish Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced the successful completion of investment procedures by ASPACE, a Hong Kong-based company, amounting to 1 billion Saudi riyals (approximately U.S.$266 million). This significant investment aims to establish an advanced satellite manufacturing company within Saudi Arabia, spanning various project phases, including the production of components, subsystems, and complete satellites. Leveraging Saudi Arabia's strategic geographical location, ASPACE aims to enhance space capabilities in the region by investing in advanced satellite technologies, which constitute a substantial portion of the global space market. This initiative not only reinforces the Kingdom's position as an attractive destination for foreign companies but also underlines its commitment to becoming a regional hub for space investments and technologies. The Saudi Space Agency's leadership sees this investment as a pivotal step in boosting competitiveness, diversifying the economy, and advancing the Kingdom's space sector. The Saudi Minister of Investment emphasised the exceptional global opportunities in the satellite industry, predicting that this move will encourage further investments in the Kingdom, contributing to its growth and global competitiveness.
Oman and Iran Discuss Cooperation in Space Sciences
Oman and Iran are exploring opportunities to expand their cooperation, with a particular focus on space sciences and technology, knowledge exchange, academic training, and collaboration between higher education institutions. The meeting between Dr. Rahma Ibrahim Al Mahrouqi, Oman's Minister of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation, and Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Issa Zarepour, emphasised strengthening bilateral relations in areas related to higher education, research, and innovation. They discussed the formation of joint research teams to facilitate knowledge transfer and contribute to economic development. The ministers also explored the potential for establishing innovative startups and organising joint events in research and innovation. Additionally, the possibility of Iranian universities establishing branches in Oman was considered, signifying a commitment to fostering academic and technological advancements in both countries.
UAE’s Hope Probe Unveils New Data About the Atmosphere on Mars
The Emirates Mars Mission's 'Hope Probe' has surpassed expectations by providing valuable insights into the Martian atmosphere through its nine datasets. The probe's three science instruments, including spectrometers and an imager, have captured data from the Martian surface to its outer atmosphere daily. While initially designed for a one-year mission, it has transitioned into an extended mission to understand inter-annual variations in the Martian atmosphere. The recently released ninth dataset includes high-frequency cloud images and observations of auroras. The mission has not only provided comprehensive data but has also made discoveries like new types of Martian auroras and observations of Mars' moon, Deimos. Recognised at the 74th International Astronautical Congress, the Hope Probe's achievements underscore its significant contributions to advancing Mars exploration and scientific understanding. With 3.3 terabytes of atmospheric data shared through its Science Data Centre, it has been a remarkable endeavor in exploring Mars' atmospheric processes, upper atmosphere loss, and their interconnection.
Details Emerge About I2U2 Earth Observation Collaboration to Combat Climate Change, Food Insecurity
The UAE, the United States, India, and Israel are collaborating on a space-based project as part of the I2U2 partnership, focusing on seven sectors including food security, water, energy, and space. The project aims to provide vast amounts of data to address climate change effects, offering open access to scientific data for the benefit of humanity. This initiative leverages space-based Earth observation data and capabilities from the partner countries to create tools for policymakers, institutions, and entrepreneurs working on environmental and climate change challenges. By encouraging international partnerships and mobilizing private sector capital, the project seeks to enhance cooperation in space data applications for the greater good. The initiative is a significant step towards addressing pressing global issues, from climate change to food insecurity, through international space collaboration and data sharing.
Oman and India Enhancing Space Cooperation Focusing on Building Capacity and Satellite Services
India is increasing efforts to support Oman's space programme, focusing on human capacity development and providing space-based services. This collaboration differs from previous space hardware and satellite ventures between the two countries. They signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on peaceful cooperation in space in 2018. Recent interactions between Oman's Transport and IT Minister and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) resulted in a GIS Portal tailored for Oman, covering sectors like agriculture, urban planning, and disaster management. Discussions also included building and launching satellites for Oman, ground station establishment, and sounding rocket launches in Oman. India's proactive space diplomacy with countries in the Global South aligns with its aim to project itself as a partner capable of delivering essential services and technology to these regions.
Israeli Interest in Space Weapons Sparks Concerns About Weaponisation of Space
The admission by the head of Israel's Space and Satellite Administration, Avi Berger, regarding Israel's interest in acquiring "space weapons" has intensified concerns about the prospect of the weaponisation of outer space. Israeli interest in these capabilities comes in the context of growing geopolitical tensions extending into the space domain, highlighting the increasingly competitive and potentially hostile nature of space activities. Additionally, Berger's comments hint at Israel's intent to enhance its space capabilities, potentially involving a constellation of satellites for security and military purposes. These developments underscore the evolving dynamics and security challenges in space, with broader implications for international relations and space governance.
ITU, U.S., and Norwegian Regulators Demand that SpaceX Cease Starlink Operations in Iran
SpaceX's unofficial provision of Starlink broadband satellite service to Iran has come under scrutiny and is now required to cease operations. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), along with regulators from the U.S. and Norway, has ruled that Starlink's deployment in Iran violates international regulations. Although SpaceX argues that the U.S. State Department encouraged Starlink deployment in Iran, the ITU's Radio Regulations Board (RRB) found that the use of Starlink terminals in Iran was unauthorised and in breach of international rules. The complexity of the situation arises from allegations that Iranian officials installed Starlink terminals in the country to demonstrate their availability, which SpaceX views as an illicit use of its service. This ruling highlights the challenges of regulating satellite services that cross international borders and the need for clear compliance measures in the rapidly evolving space industry.
Elon Musk’s Offer to Provide Starlink Services to Aid Organisations in Gaza Sparks Fury from Israel’s Government
Elon Musk's announcement that SpaceX's Starlink would support communication links in Gaza with "internationally recognized aid organizations" has sparked controversy, with Israel's communication minister, Shlomo Karhi, vowing to fight the move. Musk stated that it was unclear who has authority for ground links in Gaza, and no terminal had requested a connection in that area. The recent telephone and internet blackout in Gaza exacerbated an already dire situation, hindering humanitarian operations and communication with staff on the ground. While the intent is to aid humanitarian efforts, concerns have been raised about the potential misuse of the Starlink connection by Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
The capital city of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, hosts the 69th International Congress of Aviation and Space Medicine;
Es’hailSat, the Qatar Satellite Company, has announced that four television channels – Sada Al Malaeb, Al Khaleej, Cinderella and Samar – are now available on its Es’hail-2 satellite located at the 26⁰ East hotspot covering the Middle East and North Africa region;
U.S. Report Alarmed at China Forging Space Links with Countries in the Greater Middle East
In Payload, Jacqueline Feldscher writes that China, through the China National Space Administration (CNSA), is increasingly leveraging its space ambitions as a tool for building a global coalition of international partners in orbit, as stated in a recent U.S. Department of Defense report. While CNSA oversees China's civilian space endeavours, such as plans for its space station and lunar base with Russia, it is also engaging in space diplomacy to enhance relationships worldwide, especially with Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partners. China has over 100 cooperative space-related agreements with more than three dozen countries. Notably, it's leading the International Lunar Research Station project, involving countries like Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Venezuela, and South Africa. Additionally, China aims to expand space cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, the report warns that China doesn't maintain a clear separation between its civil and military space activities. It continues developing weapons for space, including anti-satellite systems, surveillance satellites, and directed energy weapons, as it views space superiority as crucial for modern warfare.
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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