Middle East Space Roundup: 29 October to 4 November 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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Israel’s Arrow-2 Missile Defence System Intercepts Houthi Ballistic Missile in Space
Israel deployed its Arrow-2 missile defence system to intercept a ballistic missile outside Earth's atmosphere, marking what is believed to be the first combat in space. The missile, launched from Yemen by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, was en route to Israel's port city of Eilat, covering nearly 1,600 kilometres over the Arabian peninsula. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used the Arrow-2 system, which employs a hypersonic interceptor to neutralise incoming missiles in space. The move underscores the evolving threat landscape and Israel's ability to counter it. The interception has broader regional implications, sending a message to Iran about Israel's missile defence capabilities and its readiness to act against Iranian missile programs amidst escalating tensions in the Middle East. This use of the Arrow-2 interceptor also implies its potential role as an anti-satellite (ASAT) capability against satellites in low-Earth orbit.
Amidst Starlink Controversy, Elon Musk Acknowledges Practical Difficulty of Operating from Gaza
Elon Musk responded to concerns about the use of SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet system in Gaza by stating that no Starlink terminal had attempted to connect from Gaza and that if one did, they would take extraordinary measures to ensure it was used only for humanitarian purposes. This statement followed Israel's announcement of its intention to prevent Starlink's use in Gaza, citing fears that it could be utilised by Hamas. Musk emphasised that they would perform security checks with both the U.S. and Israeli governments before activating any terminals. The situation is complicated by the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with Israel conducting operations to disrupt communication among Hamas. While Musk asserts that Starlink would be exclusively for humanitarian organizations, the practical challenges of verifying user identities could potentially enable unauthorised use. If activated, Starlink could offer internet access to Gaza through a network of satellites, a technology that has gained global recognition for its ability to provide connectivity in conflict zones and areas with damaged infrastructure. Currently, Musk oversees a substantial satellite constellation, with plans to expand it significantly. Israel's concerns about the potential misuse of Starlink reflect the complex intersections of technology, geopolitics, and security in the modern era.
Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre Showcases its Advances in Space Medicine
Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSH&RC) is showcasing its pioneering work in space biomedical research and its implications for human health at the Global Health Exhibition. The hospital highlights its role in conducting four groundbreaking experiments in cell sciences in space, examining immune cell responses to inflammation, gene activity in immune cells under inflammatory conditions, and the lifespan of ribonucleic acid (mRNA) in space compared to Earth. Additionally, KFSH&RC simulates drug treatment responses in immune cells to explore potential applications for prevention and early treatment. These experiments were conducted in collaboration with the Saudi Space Agency during a scientific mission to the International Space Station (ISS) by Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni. The goal is to contribute to space medicine research, enhance space explorer safety, and leverage the knowledge gained for global patient benefits. KFSH&RC is actively pursuing further research in space biomedical science to understand the effects of gravity deficiency and cosmic radiation on the human body, potentially leading to innovative disease treatments and advancements in space medicine.
UAE’s Yahsat Becomes Member of United Nations Global Compact
Yahsat, the UAE’s premier commercial satellite operator, has become a member of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative. As a member, Yahsat will integrate the UNGC's ten core principles into its business operations, covering areas such as human rights, labour, environmental stewardship, and anti-corruption measures. These principles will be embedded into Yahsat's sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy across its operations. The company also intends to actively participate in collaborative projects aligned with the United Nations' sustainability goals and the United Arab Emirates' vision, with a focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yahsat's move reflects its commitment to transparency, accountability, and ethical governance in pursuit of a sustainable future.
UAE’s MBRSC Partners with European and German Space Agencies for Study on Electrically Conductive Metals
The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has disclosed its collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML) Batch 3 study conducted by astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi during his six-month mission onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The EML experiment aims to provide valuable insights into the solidification behavior and thermophysical properties of electrically conductive metals. It underscores the significance of international cooperation, showcasing how countries can combine their strengths and resources to gain insights into scientific phenomena. This collaboration reflects meticulous planning, coordination, and trust among the three entities. The study not only enhances our understanding of metals in space but also contributes to refining processes on Earth, particularly in improving metal alloy production and casting. The UAE's participation in this venture sets a precedent for scientific cooperation in space research, highlighting its dedication to advancing global knowledge and fostering international partnerships in space exploration and scientific innovation.
Türkiye and Malaysia in Talks to Jointly Develop Space Technology
Malaysia is engaged in discussions with Türkiye regarding a potential bilateral agreement for the development of space technology, according to Datuk Arthur Joseph Kurup, the country's deputy minister for science, technology, and innovation. These talks, facilitated by the Malaysian Space Agency (MYSA) and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), aim to foster collaboration in space expertise sharing and talent development, particularly in satellite manufacturing technology. Malaysia's objective includes launching a new satellite and fostering a dynamic space industry ecosystem through initiatives like the Malaysian Space Industry Corporation (MASIC), which unites local space industry players for collaborative efforts. The projects initiated through memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and letters of intent (LOIs) signed earlier are already underway, with the potential to contribute significantly to the local economy once fully realised. Malaysia aims to establish itself as a key supplier of satellite components within the space technology sector.
Türksat Strikes Deal with Azerbaijan’s Azercosmos to Use Azerspace-2 SATCOM in Africa
The state space corporation of Azerbaijan, Azercosmos, has entered into a new agreement with Türksat, the Turkish satellite communications operator. This agreement outlines Türksat's use of the Azerspace-2 communication satellite's capabilities for projects related to satellite data transmission in Africa. Azercosmos is actively pursuing the development of programmes to enhance its space research capabilities, aligning with its mission to contribute to a more interconnected, advanced, and secure world for future generations. Azercosmos currently operates three satellites and seeks to establish itself as a significant player in the global space industry by engaging in various research activities, collaborating with international partners, and fostering a space ecosystem within Azerbaijan. This partnership exemplifies the growing cooperation in the space sector between Azerbaijan and Türkiye.
Hamas Possibly Jamming Satellite Navigation Signals in Gaza
Reports of jamming of satellite navigation signals in the Gaza conflict zone, highlight both Israel’s actions to disrupt satellite navigation, particularly to counter potential threats from groups like Hezbollah, and suggestions that Hamas may also be jamming such signals. This jamming activity is primarily focused on northern Israel and is aimed at thwarting drone and missile attacks. While observations by users in the region have noted disruptions in GPS signals, particularly in popular navigation apps, such as Waze, it remains unclear whether Hamas is actively involved in jamming or if such jamming is localised and not widely detectable. There is a global market for consumer GPS-jamming devices, some of which can be quite potent. This development raises concerns about the potential impact on military operations and underscores the importance of maintaining technological advantages in modern conflicts.
Israel’s Satixfy Completes Transaction for UK Subsidiary with Canada’s MDA
Israel’s SatixFy Communications has successfully completed a $60 million transaction with Canada’s MDA Ltd., strengthening its position in the satellite communication systems market. As part of the agreement, MDA acquired SatixFy's digital payload division and its UK subsidiary for $40 million and made an additional $20 million in advance payments for future space-grade chip orders. SatixFy retains its ASIC intellectual property and chip development capabilities, focusing on providing technology to satellite payload design companies. This strategic move aims to expand SatixFy's reach and solutions while leveraging its innovative chip-based technology for advanced digital satellite payloads. It aligns with SatixFy's goal of becoming a top technology provider in the satellite payload design sector, particularly in multi-beam forming and beam-hopping, using its radiation-hardened chipsets.
Egypt, Iran, and Syria Participate in United Nations’ Space Security Debate
The United Nations General Assembly is considering two open-ended working groups aimed at preventing an arms race in outer space. The first draft resolution, sponsored by the United Kingdom, focuses on reducing space threats through norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviors. It proposes the establishment of an open-ended working group to continue deliberations and recommendations on preventing an arms race in outer space, building on previous discussions. Iran and Syria, among others, unsuccessfully opposed the adoption of the UK’s proposal. The second draft resolution, tabled by the Russian Federation, suggests practical measures for preventing an arms race in outer space. It expresses grave concern about such an arms race and urges the Conference on Disarmament to start negotiations on an international legally binding instrument to prevent it. This draft also calls for the establishment of an open-ended working group to make recommendations on the elements of such an instrument and was supported by Egypt, Iran, and Syria. The adoption of these resolutions reflects growing regional concerns about the weaponising of space and the need to address space security through international cooperation and norms.
Azerbaijan’s Azercosmos Reports Q3 Revenues for Satellite Business
Azerbaijan's Azercosmos has reported revenues of $14.4 million from the provision of satellite and telecommunication services during the first nine months of 2023. The data, sourced from the Center for Analysis of Economic Reforms and Communications of Azerbaijan, highlights the company's substantial export earnings from these services to 45 countries, with $1.8 million generated in September alone. Key export destinations include the UK ($4.1 million), Luxembourg ($3.1 million), the UAE ($1.2 million), Germany ($815,000), and Nigeria ($572,000). This steady revenue stream from satellite and telecommunication services underscores Azercosmos' position as a player in the global space industry, complementing its 2022 earnings of $26.6 million in this sector.
Musk’s Intention to Provide Starlink in Gaza Likely Last Straw for Israel After Months of SpaceX Regulatory Failures
Israel has decided to sever all ties with Starlink, the satellite internet service provider owned by SpaceX, due to disagreements over regulatory compliance and security standards. This decision follows months of negotiations between the two parties. Israel's Ministry of Communications cited Starlink's failure to meet regulatory requirements, alleged predatory pricing practices, and privacy violations as reasons for the split. Starlink, which began offering high-speed internet access in Israel in June 2023, had aimed to provide internet connectivity to underserved rural and remote areas using its low-Earth orbit satellite communications constellation. Notably, Elon Musk, SpaceX's CEO, recently announced Starlink's intention to support internationally recognised aid organisations in Gaza by providing connectivity, a move that could have significant humanitarian implications in the area where internet access is limited. However, Israel's concerns about security and potential misuse of the technology by Hamas led to its decision to sever ties with Starlink. The impact on Starlink's global business and its efforts to expand into other markets remains uncertain.
Israel’s Gilat Wins $20 Million Contract Renewal from U.S. Customer for SATCOM Connectivity
Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks has secured a renewal and extension contract worth approximately $20 million from a Tier-1 Mobile Network Operator (MNO) in the United States. Under this multi-year agreement, Gilat will continue to provide end-to-end managed services for satellite-based cellular backhaul and emergency response to this long-standing customer. Gilat is a global leader in 4G cellular backhaul over satellite solutions, boasting strong capabilities in technology, delivery, and operation. Additionally, Gilat's technology is adaptable for the transition to 5G and can accommodate next-generation multi-orbit constellations and Very High Throughput Satellite (VHTS) satellites. The contract renewal highlights Gilat's ability to deliver a superior user experience and meet operational requirements for critical connectivity services.
CEO of Arabsat Explains His Changes to Region’s Oldest Satellite Communications Company
Eng. Alhamedi Alanezi, the CEO of Arabsat headquartered in Saudi Arabia, has undertaken a transformative approach to modernise the company. Under his leadership, Arabsat has revamped its brand identity, aiming to be a more human-centric satellite solutions provider with a focus on gender and cultural diversity. The company has hired women and experts from various countries to accommodate new market demands and enhance its diversity. Alanezi also emphasizes the importance of empowering young professionals in the space industry. Arabsat is expanding its offerings beyond broadcasting, including providing connectivity to underserved areas for e-learning and offering services like monitoring desert expansion, water quality, and oil spills. The company's strategic vision includes enhancing connectivity for the Arab world, investing in new satellite technology, and expanding data services. Arabsat is also working on enriching its broadcasting services, offering training and certification to TV channel employees, and providing advisory services to channels entering new markets. This multifaceted approach aims to create a more informed and capable customer base and foster sustainable client relationships in a rapidly evolving industry.
Speculation Emerges that Iran is Using its Earth Observation Satellites to Monitor Conflict in Gaza
Iran's strategic interest in satellite technology for military and intelligence purposes may well be active in light of regional conflicts, particularly the conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist organisation supported by Iran, according to Juan Pons writing for the Spanish publication Atalayar. Pons highlights Iran's use of Earth observation satellites, including the Noor series and Khayyam-1, for collecting intelligence and monitoring border areas. Despite facing sanctions and restrictions on its space programme, Iran has developed its own space capabilities with the help of countries like Russia, North Korea, China, and India, which provide technological components and expertise. The recent visit of an Iranian delegation to Moscow signifies Iran's effort to strengthen its space cooperation with Russia, seeking technology transfers and collaboration on projects like the Sfera mega-constellation of observation and communications satellites as well as additional Khayyam high-resolution Earth observation satellites. This demonstrates Iran's commitment to advancing its space capabilities for both civilian and military purposes.
Egypt’s NExSat-1 Remote Sensing Satellite to be Launched in November 2023
The Egyptian Space Agency (EgSpA) is set to launch its latest remote sensing satellite, NExSat-1, in November 2023, marking a significant advancement in Egypt's space endeavours. This satellite is the product of a collaborative effort between Egypt and German company Berlin Space Technologies and represents a milestone in the country's growing expertise in satellite technology, with 45% of its components being locally engineered. It follows the successful launch of EgyptSat-2 in December 2022, developed in partnership with China, which focuses on monitoring climate patterns and emissions in African countries to address climate change challenges. These initiatives demonstrate Egypt's commitment to becoming self-reliant in space science and satellite manufacturing and to extending these capabilities across the African continent.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
The UAE and Türkiye boost bilateral ties, including space cooperation in areas such as satellite development, space exploration, and space-related services such as space launch. This, in turn, is poised to foster augmented investments within the aerospace sector of both countries, while encouraging greater collaboration in other space-related projects;
Deira International School (DIS), a flagship institution under the Al Futtaim Education Foundation (AFEF) in the UAE, announces that a team of its sixth-form students has been selected to compete in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC) 2024;
Space Florida, in the United States, and Israel’s Innovation Authority announced the 11th call for project proposals. The research and development funding available, valued at $2 million, aims to cultivate a space ecosystem and further strengthen the economic relationship between Florida and Israel;
Saudi Arabia’s Communications, Space and Technology Commission (CST) announces the start of registration for a variety of space training programmes, which will take place in November and December 2023 in Riyadh, Jeddah, and the Eastern Province of the Kingdom, both in person and online. These programmes aim to equip national talent to adapt to the rapid developments in the space sector, explore investment opportunities, and benefit from various international experiences.
The Evolving Space Interests of Middle Eastern Countries
Writing for U.S. think-tank Stimson Center, Beatrice Hainaut, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM) in Paris, says that the Middle East is rapidly emerging as a significant player in the space sector, with countries in the region investing heavily in space initiatives. This trend is driven by various factors, including economic diversification, national branding, and prestige, as well as expanding strategic partnerships and strengthening military capabilities. Economic diversification is a key driver, with Middle Eastern countries investing in high-tech industries, such as space, to reduce their dependence on oil revenues. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are actively promoting their commercial space sectors as part of broader economic plans, with initiatives like Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and the UAE's "Space Means Business" campaign. Additionally, space initiatives are seen as a way to promote national branding and prestige. Achieving milestones in space, such as the UAE's Hope Probe mission to Mars and the first Arab spacewalk, helps build national identities and pride. The UAE, in particular, has used space achievements to foster a sense of unity among its seven emirates. Expanding strategic partnerships is another significant aspect, with Middle Eastern countries forging collaborations with countries like China, India, and Israel. These partnerships include infrastructure projects and space exploration efforts. However, balancing these partnerships with traditional alliances, like those with the United States, poses challenges. Lastly, there is a focus on strengthening military capabilities through space initiatives. Middle Eastern countries are acquiring reconnaissance capabilities and high-resolution imaging satellites for border surveillance and military operations. This military dependence on space capabilities could have implications for regional stability. Overall, the Middle East's growing involvement in space activities is driven by a complex interplay of economic, political, and strategic factors. As these countries become more active in the space sector, they are also seeking to address space governance and security issues on the international stage.
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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