Middle East Space Roundup: 4 to 10 June 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 Participates in, and Chairs, the 66th Session of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
A high-level UAE delegation, led by H.E. Omran Sharaf, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Advanced Science and Technology and Chair of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, participated in the 66th session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). The session, held in Vienna, Austria from 31 May to 9 June 2023 brought together representatives from 100 member states. H.E. Omran Sharaf highlighted the significant advancements in space exploration, such as the James Webb Space Telescope capturing early space images, altering the orbit of an asteroid, and ongoing robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars. He emphasised the crucial role of COPUOS in promoting dialogue, international collaboration, and global governance of outer space activities. The UAE delegation, including Salem Butti Salem Al Qubaisi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UAE Space Agency, expressed the UAE's commitment to creating a positive impact through its chairmanship of COPUOS. They emphasised the importance of regional and international collaboration, scientific research, technological advances, and knowledge sharing among member states. The UAE has actively developed its regulatory framework to ensure the safety and sustainability of space activities and has launched various initiatives to support the growth of the space sector, including the Abu Dhabi Space Debate, the Space Academy for capacity building, and the Space Economic Zones to foster the establishment of UAE-based space companies. The delegation also highlighted the UAE's AED 3 billion National Space Fund, Space Data Centre, and the upcoming Space Analytics and Solutions (SAS) Programme, which aims to raise awareness of space applications in mitigating climate change and environmental challenges. The speeches during the session emphasised the peaceful use of outer space, space sustainability, international collaboration, and the role of space technologies in addressing climate change and disaster management. The UAE's participation in COPUOS showcased its efforts in space exploration, scientific research, education, innovation, and economic diversification, with a focus on missions like the Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe, the Emirates Lunar Mission Rashid Rover 2, and the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt, that contribute to achieving strategic objectives and developing national talent in the space sector.
UAE’s MBRSC Reveals Details of MBZ-Sat Earth Observation Satellite
The UAE is making preparations to launch the most advanced imaging satellite in the region, named MBZ-Sat, into space next year. Developed at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai, the 800-kilogram satellite will be launched on a SpaceX ride-share mission using a Falcon 9 rocket in 2024. MBZ-Sat aims to be the region's most advanced high-accuracy, high-resolution imaging satellite and will monitor environmental changes, water quality, and support agricultural development, among other purposes. The satellite is expected to be three times more powerful than KhalifaSat and will have an automated image scheduling and processing system capable of producing ten times more images than the current capabilities of the space centre. The UAE government aims to strengthen the domestic space industry through this mission, with a significant portion of the satellite's mechanical and electronic modules built in the Emirates. Several private enterprises in the country, including Strata, EPI, Rockford Xellerix, Halcon, and Falcon Group, have collaborated with MBRSC in manufacturing the satellite. The development of MBZ-Sat showcases the UAE's commitment to advancing its space sector and supporting environmental strategies while fostering public-private partnerships and boosting the private space industry in the country.
UAE Space Agency Outlines Role of Satellites in Fighting Climate Change, 10-Year Plan
Abdulla Al Shehhi, the head of strategic research at the UAE Space Agency, has highlighted the significant role that space exploration can play in mitigating the effects of climate change. He emphasised that space technology, including Earth observation satellites, can revolutionise how humanity addresses climate challenges. Satellites provide crucial data on climate patterns, greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation, enabling better understanding and decision-making. Space-based technology has already transformed sectors like agriculture, where satellites monitor soil quality, drought conditions, and crop development, assisting farmers in optimising their harvest timings and irrigation needs. Enhanced satellite data is crucial for improving agricultural yields to meet the demands of a growing population. Furthermore, space technology facilitates global weather monitoring, sea level tracking, and ecosystem health assessment, aiding in informed decision-making and policy establishment. Al Shehhi also noted that space technology can contribute to climate-friendly initiatives like autonomous electric vehicles, relying on GPS technology and satellite communication systems. Overall, leveraging space technologies is vital for sustainability and benefiting sectors such as energy, food, water, aviation, and telecommunications. The UAE, in its 10-year plan to become a global space leader, has invested $10 billion in the space sector and initiated programmes like the National Space Strategy 2030 and the UAE Astronaut Programme. Al Shehhi believes the sector will continue to grow rapidly and offers diverse career opportunities across various fields. He encourages younger generations to pursue careers in space and highlights the importance of attracting talent to the sector for a better future.
Azerbaijan’s Azercosmos in Negotiations With SpaceX for Starlink Access
Starlink, the satellite internet service provided by SpaceX, is in negotiations with Azerbaijan to launch its services in the country, according to Asnid Amir, the Communications Manager of Starlink. He stated that satellite coverage is already available throughout Azerbaijan, and efforts are underway to obtain a license to provide satellite internet services. Once a general agreement is reached, Starlink will be able to launch its services in the country. This development follows the cooperation agreement signed between Azercosmos and SpaceX on 9 May 2023. The collaboration aims to provide access to high-speed internet, even in remote areas of Azerbaijan, leveraging the capabilities of Starlink's satellite internet service.
Airbus Pulls Out of Azerbaijan After Losing Earth Observation Satellite Bid
Airbus Defense and Space SAS, the European multinational aerospace company, has announced the liquidation of its branch in Azerbaijan. The decision was confirmed by the State Tax Service under the Ministry of Economy of Azerbaijan, which stated that creditors have a two-month window to submit their claims at the specified address in Baku City's Yasamal district. Bernard Kempf serves as the official representative of the company. The Azerbaijan branch of Airbus Defense and Space SAS was established in January 2016, but recently lost out on the bid to provide two high-resolution Earth observation satellites for Azerbaijan. That contract was awarded to Israel Aerospace Industries.
Israel’s ImageSat International Teams Up With Terran Orbital for Earth Observation Satellite for Chile
U.S. company Terran Orbital Corporation has announced the final launch preparations for the RUNNER-1 satellite, which will be deployed aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of the Transporter-8 rideshare mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Developed jointly by Terran Orbital and Israel’s ImageSat International Ltd., RUNNER-1 is a multi-purpose remote sensing satellite capable of high-resolution multi-spectral imaging and colour video. It will join ImageSat International's constellation of satellites and provide services to the Chilean Government as part of a contract to enhance the country's national space programme. The satellite, based on Terran Orbital's avionics platform and a unique electro-optical mission system by ImageSat International, will enable effective data collection and analysis, offering rapid response capabilities for various scenarios such as infrastructure monitoring, natural disasters, security events, and climate change. Additionally, the satellite plays a key role in the Chilean national space programme's vision, which aims to generate public value, social development, and increased wealth through advanced space-based technology solutions. Terran Orbital expressed excitement about the upcoming launch and its collaboration with ImageSat International and the Chilean Space Programme, emphasising the potential for RUNNER-1 to revolutionise satellite capabilities and contribute to future endeavours.
UAE’s Yahsat Eyes Expansion Into Asia-Pacific Region
Yahsat, the UAE's leading satellite solutions provider, organised 'Yahsat Asia Week' in Singapore as part of its efforts to enhance its presence in global markets. The event included the first-ever Asia Partner Conference, where service partners from eight countries in the region gathered under the theme 'Partner Pioneers.' Thuraya, Yahsat's mobility arm, showcased its latest solutions and services targeting growth in the Asia-Pacific markets. The conference highlighted Yahsat's regional growth strategy and provided exclusive previews of Thuraya's next-generation broadband solutions. The Asia-Pacific satellite communications market is expected to grow at an 8.5% CAGR between 2022 and 2032, reflecting the rising demand for satellite services in the region. Yahsat aims to address this demand with Thuraya's versatile solutions, particularly in sectors such as enterprise, consumers, maritime, and government. The event concluded with a sailing event to demonstrate Thuraya's maritime portfolio and foster stronger partnerships. Thuraya also participated in CommunicAsia 2023 and the Asia Satellite Business Week, showcasing its award-winning solutions and providing insights into Yahsat's advanced satellite communications capabilities. Yahsat asserts that its commitment to the Asia-Pacific region is demonstrated through its technology's contributions to economic development and critical communication capabilities in underserved communities.
UAE Space Agency Hosts COP 28 Gala Dinner at COPUOS
The UAE Space Agency hosted a gala dinner sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Space Debate during its participation in the 66th session of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Vienna, Austria. The event, attended by senior officials and decision-makers from participating countries, aimed to highlight the importance of supporting global sustainability efforts, particularly the role of the space sector in addressing climate change and its relevance to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) to be hosted by the UAE in November and December 2023. The gala dinner served as a platform for engaging in discussions on industry challenges during COP28 and emphasised the need for international cooperation and the development of competencies and scientific research in the space sector. The event showcased the UAE's significant initiatives and projects undertaken by the UAE Space Agency to address climate challenges and promote sustainability, including the Space Data Centre and the partnership with Planet Labs to develop a satellite data-driven loss and damage atlas.
UAE’s MBRSC Launches Space Science Education Programme
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has launched the Space Science Education Programme, an ongoing educational outreach initiative aimed at inspiring and educating students in the UAE about space science. The programme includes workshops and activities that cover various space and scientific topics, providing students with hands-on experience and knowledge about space exploration and research. The inaugural session focused on microorganisms in space, offering insights into how these organisms behave in the unique environment of space. The initiative aims to nurture curiosity, stimulate interest in space biology, and lay the foundation for future scientists, engineers, and astronauts in the UAE. The Space Science Education Programme is part of MBRSC's mission to empower youth with knowledge and foster a culture of scientific discovery and innovation in the country. The initiative is supported by MBRSC's ambitious projects, including the UAE Astronaut Programme, which introduces students to the objectives, training, and experiences of astronauts, and provides an understanding of the International Space Station (ISS) and ongoing missions.
China Assisting Egypt in Building Satellite Tracking and Debris Monitoring Station
Egypt and China are collaborating on the construction of the second-largest global monitoring station for tracking satellites and space debris. The Space Research Laboratory at the Egyptian National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG) is leading the project, with Prof. Dr. Rasha Mohamed-Fathy Ghoneim at the helm. The station will utilise laser beams and will consist of two telescopes housed in a dome. The first telescope, with a diameter of 120 cm, will be received from China within a month and a half and will be dedicated to tracking space debris. The second telescope, with a diameter of 70 cm, will be dispatched in August and will monitor both space debris and satellites. The dome's construction is expected to be completed within two months, and a Chinese delegation of experts will provide training to Egyptian engineers and technicians during the trial operation phase. This initiative aligns with Egypt's plan to establish a land-based station for tracking artificial satellites and space debris, as outlined in the NRIAG's 2022 mission statement.
Saudi Astronauts Eager to Carry Out Long-Duration Crewed Space Missions
Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali Al Qarni, who recently returned from their historic trip to the International Space Station (ISS), expressed their eagerness to embark on long-duration missions in an interview with UAE English-language newspaper The National. The eight-day mission marked significant achievements for Saudi Arabia in space, with Barnawi becoming the first Arab woman to go on a space mission, and both astronauts being the first Saudi citizens to reach the ISS. Barnawi, a research scientist, and Al Qarni, a fighter pilot, spoke about their desire to participate in longer missions and surpass records. They also discussed the benefits of private space stations for non-ISS partner countries like Saudi Arabia. The astronauts reflected on the most memorable moments of their journey, their research activities aboard the ISS, and the warm reception they received from the crew. The Arab region has shown immense excitement and pride in their achievements, inspiring others to pursue space exploration.
Ruetir.com argues that the real space race in the Middle East is between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, not between Israel and Iran - something that is long-known to regional space observers. The recent Axiom Mission 2, which included two Saudi astronauts, marked a significant step in the Gulf countries' race to become regional space powers. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have recognised the economic potential of space research and are investing heavily in their space programmes to reduce dependence on oil and diversify their economies. Saudi Arabia's space programme received a $2 billion investment in 2020, and the Saudi Space Commission launched initiatives to support local entrepreneurs and startups in the space sector. The UAE, on the other hand, established its national space agency in 2014 and made headlines with the successful launch of the 'Hope' probe to study Mars' atmosphere. However, the UAE's partnership with China for lunar missions has faced challenges due to concerns about technology transfer and U.S. export control regulations. The rivalry between the two Gulf countries reflects the broader geopolitical dynamics between the U.S. and China.
The Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, face criticism and skepticism regarding their space missions, with some questioning their feasibility and dismissing them as mere exercises in prestige. However, these comments fail to recognise the importance of the Gulf's space endeavours in line with global economic, scientific, and environmental trends, argues prominent Arab economic analyst Mohammed Al Asoomi in UAE English-language newspaper Gulf News. It is crucial to emphasise the value of space science and address misconceptions surrounding these missions. While critics highlight the high costs involved, they overlook the fact that space missions incur expenses for all countries and cannot be carried out for free. Moreover, the objectives of Gulf space missions go beyond tourism and encompass scientific and environmental experiments with long-term implications. These missions involve meticulous selection of Gulf astronauts with expertise in various fields, contributing significantly to the advancement of space science. Additionally, the reliance on rockets and spacecraft from other countries is a practical approach, considering cost considerations and the trend of importing certain goods instead of manufacturing them in the global space economy. The UAE and Saudi Arabia's participation in international space collaboration promises significant economic returns in the long run. Despite criticisms, these nations continue to invest in and contribute to scientific and technical advancements, demonstrating their commitment to global progress.
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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