Middle East Space Roundup: 26 November to 2 December 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:
Thanks for reading Middle East Space Monitor powered by AzurX! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Iran Claims It Has Made Progress in “Bio-Space” Research
The Iran Space Agency, under the leadership of Hassan Salariyeh, is making strategic advancements in "bio-space" research and development, marking a significant leap in Iran's space exploration endeavours. This is likely a restart of basic research for Iran’s human spaceflight programme that originally began in the late 2000’s. With a ten-year space programme approved and a reorganisation of the space industry, Iran aims to overcome challenges in various space projects. Salariyeh highlighted the importance of bio-space within Iran's space industry, emphasising advancements in space sciences and exploration. Notably, Iranian experts are developing and preparing to launch a ‘bio-capsule' designed to create suitable living conditions and ensure survivability in space capsules. Salariyeh stressed the importance of comprehensive features in space capsules, including temperature regulation, oxygen volume, breathable air, and resilience against thermal and acceleration shocks. While acknowledging progress in aerospace control and monitoring systems, Salariyeh stressed that the space industry should focus on national interests and scientific growth, underscoring Iran's achievements in the field. He encouraged continued efforts to advance the country's space sector and explore new research avenues.
Qatar Signs Landmark Agreement with U.S. Space Command
Qatar’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the U.S. Space Command have recently signed a significant cooperation agreement in the domains of air and space. Under this agreement, the U.S. is set to enhance the capabilities of the Qatari Emiri Air Force (QEAF) by supplying advanced defence systems. The Pentagon will play a pivotal role in facilitating Qatar's procurement of these cutting-edge systems. The agreement also entails the establishment of a joint commission focused on air and space defence cooperation, which will involve training Qatari engineers and technicians for overseeing military satellite projects. Furthermore, the accord includes provisions for the potential supply of advanced laser weapon systems (LWS) to safeguard air bases and airports. Importantly, the agreement contains a clause granting Qatar privileged access to advanced U.S. technology, paving the way for future acquisitions such as stealth unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the F-35, and sixth-generation fighters. This collaboration is part of the broader defence partnership between Qatar and the U.S., strengthened by Qatar's Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status and the Biden administration's commitment to bolstering Qatar's defence infrastructure with advanced air and space technologies. The Qatari MoD intends to engage with prominent U.S. defence companies like General Atomics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and RTX to implement the agreement effectively.
Elon Musk Told that Starlink Can Only Operate in Gaza with Israel’s Permission
Israel has informed Elon Musk that SpaceX’s Starlink can only operate in Gaza with its approval. Musk had previously stated that Starlink would support connectivity to internationally recognised aid organisations in Gaza to address issues related to lengthy blackouts caused by Israel's bombardment. The Israeli communications minister stated that a principle understanding had been reached with Musk, specifying that Starlink satellite units can only be operated in Israel, including Gaza, with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Communications. Elon Musk has not publicly confirmed this deal. His visit to Israel coincided with a four-day pause in hostilities, and he faced scrutiny over alleged antisemitism on his social media platform, X, following his endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory.
Iran and Iraq Expanding Space Cooperation
Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Technology, Issa Zarepour, highlighted the expanding cooperation between Iran and Iraq in the fields of communications, information technology, space, and mail. He emphasised Iran's significant progress in these areas and its willingness to share its knowledge and experiences with Iraq. Zarepour mentioned the recent signing of memorandums of understanding between the two countries, which have improved the quality of communication. His visit to Iraq, at the invitation of his Iraqi counterpart, included meetings with Iraqi officials and discussions on collaboration in telecommunications and postal services.
UAE’s Yahsat Showcases Space Technologies for Combatting Climate Change at COP28
Yahsat, the UAE’s premier satellite communications company, is gearing up to unveil its climate change solutions at COP28 in Dubai. Collaborating closely with UAE government entities and international organisations like the United Nations, Yahsat is committed to providing advanced, affordable, and reliable solutions to address global climate change challenges. The company's satellite capabilities are pivotal in offering practical climate technology solutions aligned with COP28's objectives. Yahsat will showcase its climate tech solutions at the UAE Space Agency pavilion and participate in various high-level sessions during the event. These sessions will cover topics such as technology's role in supporting ocean biodiversity, empowering at-risk communities through climate adaptation technology, and early warning systems using digital connectivity. Additionally, Yahsat will present its advanced satellite solutions for telemedicine and digital learning in remote areas during a panel discussion on climate-smart disaster response. Ali Al Hashemi, Yahsat's Group CEO, emphasised the crucial role of space technologies in addressing climate issues, underscoring the company's commitment to climate responsibility and supporting the UAE's Net Zero 2050 Strategic Initiative.
Iran to Launch Five Satellites by End of Islamic Year; Rebuffs Complaints About its Space and Missile Programmes at UN
The Iranian Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Issa Zarepour, has announced Iran’s ambitious plans to launch five satellites by the end of the year. These satellites include two to be launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), two by the Ministry of Defence, and one from abroad (possibly the second Omar Khayyam Earth observation satellite built and launched by Russia for Iran). Additionally, Iran is updating its national coverage map, with 95% of it already updated using data from its current Omar Khayyam satellite. In other Iranian space news, in response to allegations of non-compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2231 regarding its space and missile programmes, Iran's permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, categorically denied any wrongdoing and reaffirmed Iran's commitment to international law. He argued that such allegations are part of a broader agenda to divert attention from other geopolitical issues and called on the international community, particularly the UN Security Council, to focus on addressing more pressing concerns. Iravani emphasised Iran's determination to continue its space and missile activities for its security and socioeconomic interests, advocating for the peaceful use of space technology without politicisation.
Saudi Arabia and United States to Negotiate Joint Framework for Bilateral Space Cooperation and Exploration
Saudi Arabia and the United States have agreed to negotiate a bilateral joint framework on space cooperation aimed at advancing their collaboration in space exploration and technology. During a visit to the U.S. by Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology and Chairman of the Saudi Space Agency Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha, both countries agreed to strengthen commercial opportunities and exploratory missions in the space sector. This partnership aligns with global efforts to promote advancements in space-related fields and industries. The agreement is expected to boost research and development, accelerate the growth of space technologies, and ensure sector sustainability. It will also facilitate knowledge exchange and the development of aerospace industries, fostering trade opportunities. Furthermore, the Kingdom and the U.S. are exploring additional framework agreements to expand cooperation in space sciences and missions. The collaboration extends beyond space, encompassing digital innovation and technology cooperation, in line with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 goals for economic diversification and technological advancement.
COO of UAE’s Emirates Airlines Predicts Aviation Industry will Provide Space Tourism Experiences Soon
The aviation industry, particularly airlines like UAE-based Emirates Airlines, is poised to play a significant role in the emerging space tourism sector, according to Adel Al Redha, Emirates Chief Operating Officer. Al Redha made this assessment during a special flight celebrating the UAE's space initiatives, including Sultan Al Neyadi's successful mission aboard the International Space Station. While not confirming Emirates' direct entry into space tourism, he expressed that airlines launching space travel services would not be surprising in the near future. The global space tourism industry is projected to grow substantially, from $851.7 million in 2024 to $5.19 billion by 2034. The UAE's rapid progress in space exploration positions it well to actively promote space tourism, Al Redha noted, and he compared the potential future of space travel to today's common air travel. Space exploration is becoming increasingly accessible, and space tourism is expected to become a niche segment of the aviation industry.
Iran Seeks Increased Cooperation with Russia in Space, Science, and Technology Sectors
Iran is expressing a strong willingness to expand collaboration with Russia in the field of space and other technological domains, as stated by Hadi Goudarzi, counselor for science and education at the Iranian Embassy in Moscow. Goudarzi emphasised Iran's readiness to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia, not only in space but also across various scientific and technological disciplines. He noted that while there have been notable achievements in certain technology sectors, there is significant untapped potential for cooperation between the two countries. Goudarzi stressed the potential for joint efforts to create new development opportunities and bolster the international standing of both countries.
Bahrain’s NSSA Commits to Strengthen Space Cooperation with India
The National Space Science Agency (NSSA) of Bahrain expressed its commitment to strengthening cooperation with India in the field of space science and applications during a meeting with Indian scientist Dr. Apathukatha Sivathanu Pillai, the former chief controller of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and founder CEO of BrahMos Aerospace. NSSA's chief executive, Dr. Mohammed Al Aseeri, lauded the ongoing collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and highlighted the benefits of previous memorandums of understanding, which facilitated advanced training for the Bahraini space team. Dr. Al Aseeri also discussed upcoming projects and proposed a technical delegation from NSSA to visit ISRO's facilities and leading space companies in the first half of the next year to further enhance cooperation. The Indian delegation praised NSSA's analytical work utilising satellite data and images.
Saudi Space Agency and Axiom Space Sign MoU to Increase Saudi Arabia’s Space Capacity
The Saudi Space Agency has taken a significant step towards developing national capabilities in the space sector by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Axiom Space during an official visit of the Saudi Digital Economy, Space, and Innovation delegation to the United States. Led by Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Space Agency, Engineer Abdullah bin Amer Al-Sawahah, the delegation included key officials from the agency. Under the terms of the MoU, Axiom Space will provide opportunities for Saudi student training, on-the-job staff training, and knowledge exchange in the field of crewed spaceflights. This collaboration is expected to enhance educational and professional development for Saudi students and employees, fostering deeper cooperation and mutual benefits between the Saudi Space Agency and Axiom Space.
Israel’s SatixFy Posts Strong Q3 2023 Financial Results
Israeli satellite communication technology developer SatixFy has reported a notable increase in product sales and revenue in its consolidated financial results for the nine months ending in September 2023. The company's total revenue surged by 31% to reach $8.9 million, compared to $6.8 million in the first nine months of 2022. Additionally, SatixFy witnessed a 21% boost in gross profit, rising from $3.7 million in 2022 to $4.5 million in 2023. However, the company's operating losses increased from $16.8 million in the same period last year to $28.1 million in 2023, primarily due to elevated research and development expenses related to advanced space-grade chips. SatixFy's finance expenses also surged to $31.8 million, linked to costs associated with selling its digital payload division to Canadian satellite manufacturer MDA for $60 million, with $40 million paid upfront and $20 million for future orders of space-grade chips. SatixFy's Acting CEO, Nir Barkan, expressed satisfaction with the financial results and emphasized the company's commitment to R&D investments to stay competitive in the growing low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite market.
Iranian Minister: Iran’s Space Industry on the Right Trajectory
Iran's Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Issa Zarepour, has highlighted the positive trajectory of Iran's space industry. He emphasised that a 10-year development plan for the sector was approved by President Raisi's administration, marking a significant step forward. After an 11-year hiatus, meetings of the Supreme Space Council resumed under President Raisi's leadership, demonstrating a renewed commitment to advancing the space industry. The minister praised the development plan for its detailed roadmap, outlining progress in satellite construction, infrastructure, ground stations, and satellite launches over one-, two-, and three-year periods. Zarepour indicated that the plan is being implemented incrementally across various departments of the Ministry of Information and Communication. He also hinted at upcoming events and announced plans to launch five satellites by the end of the Islamic year, involving both governmental and international efforts. Coordination and cooperation among various bodies, overseen by the Supreme Space Council, are expected to propel Iran's space industry toward its rightful position on the global stage.
SpaceX Successfully Launches Hayasat-1, First Satellite Built in Armenia
Armenia has achieved a significant milestone in its space endeavours with the successful launch of the Hayasat-1 satellite by SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base. This marks the first satellite developed entirely by Armenian specialists at BazoomQ within the country. Hayasat-1 boasts a unique capability as it continuously revolves around the Earth's axis, remaining consistently oriented toward the Sun. This orientation allows for communication sessions every time the satellite crosses the Earth's equator at roughly the same time. While initial communication attempts are scheduled soon after launch, the satellite's batteries may have partially depleted during its transit from the Netherlands to the U.S., potentially impacting immediate functionality. It will later recharge in sunlight and become fully operational. Hayasat-1 is equipped with various sensors and instruments to measure light intensity, magnetic fields, temperatures, and orientation changes, demonstrating Armenia's growing prowess in space technology.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
Saudi Arabia and Brazil discuss cooperation across a range of sectors including space cooperation;
Iranian Regime TV Channels Losing Out to Persian Language Satellite Television Broadcasts
Behrouz Turani details in Iran International how the closure of Iran's Jam-e Jam channel in September 2023, designed to reach Iranian expatriates, highlights the challenges the regime faces in disseminating its ideological message to the diaspora. The move underscores the breakdown of the state television's monopoly on broadcasting, as it struggled to compete with foreign-based satellite television channels offering more transparent and unbiased content. Former Jam-e Jam manager Saeed Fanian criticised the leadership's lack of expertise and inability to challenge authorities, thus failing to convince viewers of fairness. While the channel initially aimed to counter foreign-based networks in the 1990s, the proliferation of professional Persian networks after 2009 eroded its appeal. Viewer numbers declined, particularly among politically-minded expats seeking accurate information. Online platforms and foreign-based channels began to dominate, offering less censored content, further diminishing state TV's relevance. A study revealed that even state TV's free content couldn't compete with video-on-demand (VOD) series in viewership. Consequently, the government may face increasing difficulty justifying investment in a propaganda machine losing its effectiveness.
Using Publicly-Available Satellite Imagery to Assess Battle Damage in Gaza
In Scientific American, Lauen Leffer speaks with two U.S. university researchers using publicly available satellite imagery to assess battle damage. Amid the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, the difficulty in accessing up-to-date satellite imagery has complicated efforts to assess the extent of destruction and damage. Some private companies, like Planet Labs and Maxar Technologies, have limited the release of high-resolution optical images of Gaza, citing concerns about potential misuse. To fill this gap, researchers have turned to alternative satellite data, such as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data. A project led by university researchers Corey Scher and Jamon Van Den Hoek has used publicly available satellite radar data and a specialised algorithm to infer building damage, revealing that around 50% of structures in northern Gaza were likely damaged by mid-November 2023. This approach provides valuable insights during conflicts, particularly when optical images are restricted, as it can see through clouds and operate at night. It also promotes transparency and access to information during wartime. However, it is not without limitations, performing best in dense urban areas with minimal environmental changes. The researchers emphasise that satellite images provide only an approximation of reality, highlighting the complexity of interpreting conflict-related landscape changes.
Be sure to catch up with space activities in the region in the next edition of Middle East Space Monitor’s space roundup!
Thanks for reading Middle East Space Monitor powered by AzurX! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.