Middle East Space Roundup: 5-11 February 2023
A summary of all the space news in the Greater Middle East over the past week
Devastation from the 2023 Turkey earthquaqe in central Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye, was captured by Planet on 7 February 2023. (Image credit: Planet)
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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6 February 2023
The earthquake in Türkiye and Syria understandably dominates headlines around the region and the world. As well as the mounting and horrifying death toll and accounts of immense suffering, hardship, and heartbreak the space and satellite sector is playing a small but important role in aiding the rescue and recovery effort that is still underway at the time this newsletter is published. Earth observation satellites from around the world, such as from the United States and Italy, as well as the Greater Middle East region - to include Israel - are providing valuable intelligence to Turkish authorities that allows them to efficiently devote manpower and resources to the locations that need them the most. Satellite communications helps rescue authorities and survivors communicate effectively in badly impacted locations where terrestrial communication networks have been destroyed or are unreliable. Emilie Bronner from the French space agency, the Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES), provides a useful explanation of the role of Earth observation satellites in natural disasters such as Monday’s earthquake in The Conversation.
Middle East Space Monitor supports the International Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross in their relief efforts in Türkiye and Syria. Readers are encouraged to donate if they are in a position to do so.
A delegation from the Russian state space corporation, Roscosmos, led by Yury Borisov, visited the headquarters of the UAE Space Agency in Abu Dhabi, UAE, for bilateral talks. According to a press release the talks between Russia and the UAE focused on the importance maintain international dialogue on the peaceful uses of outer space, space sustainability, and the role of satellites in monitoring and mitigating climate change. The two sides also reportedly discussed the role of space technologies at the UAE-hosted 28th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) to be held in Dubai Expo City from 30 November to 12 December 2023. The UAE and Russia cooperate on a few space issues. These include the UAE hosting a ground receiving station for the Russian global navigation satellite system (GLONASS), a join investment in several launch pads, along with Kazakhstan, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and a large part of the training of the UAE’s first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, took place in Russia. The UAE maintains active relations with Russia at a time when much of the international community have broken relations with Moscow due to the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.
The Sultanate of Oman released its first ever national space policy, developed by the Omani Ministry of Transport, Communications, and Information Technology, reportedly with the assistance of Euroconsult. The policy, which can be found here, emphasises, among other things, capacity building in the government and private sectors, the development of sovereign capabilities in satellite communications and Earth observation, and the development of downstream commercial ventures for processing and analysing data from Earth observation satellites and services for satellite communications. Notably, the Etlaq spaceport near the Omani port of Duqb receives a passing mention in the policy document, but is obviously not a priority for the Omani government. Oman is already developing its sovereign communications satellite through its Space Communications Technologies entity. The Sultanate’s first Earth observation satellite, Aman, was lost in a Virgin Orbit launch failure in January 2023.
7 February 2023
A senior official at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai, UAE, announced that one hundred percent of its staff are Emiratis. The UAE government is promoting a new round of what is known as Emiratization whereby government entities and private companies of a certain size must achieve quotas in employing Emiratis. The MBRSC also boasts that fifty percent of its employees are Emirati women.
In Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Telecommunication Company (STC) announced that it is planning to rollout satellite high-speed broadband internet throughout the Kingdom in 2023. An executive from STC said that the unnamed satellite service STC will use will provide faster internet speeds than SpaceX’s Starlink. While STC have not named the company providing the satellite service, Saudi Arabia’s NEOM created a joint venture with low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications constellation operator OneWeb in October 2021. STC has trialed its satellite internet service at NEOM.
A competition between France and Russia may be in the offing to build at least one communication satellite for Iraq. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited Baghdad and mentioned that the two countries are discussing technical and scientific cooperation, the kind of language that usually involves space and satellite issues. Russia is desperate to enter new markets after being economically isolated by many developed countries following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani held meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, and then met with many large French companies, to include French satellite manufacturers Airbus Defence and Space and Thales. In January 2022 Airbus submitted a bid to the Ministry of Communications in Iraq to build the first communication satellite for the country. An August 2022 report by the Iraqi News Agency claims that the Iraqi Ministry of Communications has secured two orbital slots in geostationary orbit, suggesting that Iraq may acquire two satellites: one for broadband internet and communications and the second for broadcasting satellite television.
8 February 2023
The unnamed Iranian synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellite spotted by Israeli analyst Tal Inbar from images of the event in Tehran marking Iran’s National Day of Space. Image credit: Mehr News Agency.
Iran displayed life-sized engineering models of two satellites it intends to launch in the near future at an event marking the Iranian National Day of Space. The two satellites, Nahid-2 - a communication satellite, and Tolou-3 - an Earth observation satellite, were unveiled in front of Iranian media and space officials in Tehran. According to various Iranian state media outlets, Nahid-2 is a basic communication satellite capable of data storage and transfer and handling a limited number of telephone calls and will be placed in a 500 kilometre altitude low-Earth orbit. Tolou-3, on the other hand, is the largest satellite made in Iran coming in at 150 kilograms. Built by an Iranian company called Iran Electronics Industries, the Tolou-3 will be able to take black and white images with a five metre resolution and colour images with a resolution of ten metres. Tolou-3 will also be placed in low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometres, suggesting that it and the Nahid-2 may be launched by the same launch vehicle. Nahid is Persian for Venus, while Tolou means sunrise.
At the same event in Tehran, the head of the Iranian Space Agency said that Iran is ready to transfer its space technology and know-how to neighbouring countries. Hassan Salarieh told journalists that "Iran has entered a new stage in space technology," and that, "In the field of space technology, we have reached a new stage by turning it into an industrial field, and now we are ready to help neighboring countries in the field of space technology.”
Also at the same Iranian satellite event, another engineering model of a satellite caught the attention of Israeli space and defence analyst Tal Inbar, who noted that it is the likely reappearance of a planned, but as yet unnamed, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellite.
Qatar calls for greater efforts for space sustainability and for using space peacefully at the 60th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna, Austria. The acting Charge d’Affaires of Qatar’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and International Organizations, Jamal bin Abdulrahman Al Jaber, said that states need to reaffirm their commitments and carry out their space activities in accordance with international law and rules, and regulations. Al Jaber also said that many countries are worried about the prospect of an arms race in outer space and that Qatar is only interested in developing space technologies for sustainable social and economic uses. He also mentioned that Qatar is cooperating with the U.S. space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to build a satellite for climate change monitoring.
9 February 2023
Deimos, the smallest of the two moons that orbit the planet Mars. Photograph courtesy of NASA.
The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and UAE Space Agency announced that the Emirates Mars Mission, launched in 2020 and entered Martian orbit in February 2021, will study the smallest of the Red Planet’s two moons, Deimos. With a radius of only 6.2 kilometres, Deimos completes an orbit around Mars every 30 hours. This new mission requires a change in orbit for the Hope probe, and means that it will regularly pass within 100 kilometres of Deimos. This will allow the probe to use its high-resolution camera and other scientific instruments to study the small moon.
10 February 2023
U.S. satellite communications company AST SpaceMobile signs a non-binding memorandum of understanding with mobile telephone provider Zain KSA of Saudi Arabia. AST SpaceMobile is developing a cellular telecommunications network in space that will allow regular iPhone and Android mobile phone users, provided they have the right chipsets installed, to make calls and other smart phone activities directly through satellites in orbit in an affordable manner, a service known as direct-to-device (D2D). The MoU with Zain KSA commits the two companies to explore opportunities in the Kingdom, collaborate on new telecommunication solutions, and increase mobile phone access in remote areas on land, at sea, and in the air.
Israeli venture capital firm, Earth & Beyond Ventures, launches a $125 million fund for Israel’s commercial deep technology, space, and satellite sectors. The fund will look to invest in six to seven early-stage companies in Israel over the coming year with cheque sizes ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. Earth & Beyond are looking to invest in Israeli companies developing core technologies that are necessary for future space exploration and satellite functions, including everything from semiconductors and quantum computers through to cyber security and new materials.
11 February 2023
The Greater Middle East, much like other regions in the world, is a part of the competition for economic and strategic supremacy between the United States and China, and the prospect of space cooperation and technology transfers in satellite technologies in the Arab world is very much part of that contest, according to Niu Xinchun, the Director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR). According to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper, Niu has said that the “most acute” conflict between the U.S. and China in the Middle East is in technology such as 5G cellular communications and in space and satellite capabilities.
A Russian Soyuz launch vehicle lofts Iran’s Omar Khayyam Earth observation satellite into orbit in August 2022. Image credit: Tehran Times.
Yury Borisov, head of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos, says that satellites could be exported to Iran, Algeria, and some Arab countries in 2023. According to Russian news outlet, Sputnik International, Roscosmos is keen to replicate the space relationship it has developed with Iran, that has included the development and launch of the high-resolution Earth observation satellite Omar Khayyam for Iran in August 2022. Iran has said that intends to acquire three more Earth observation satellites from Russia in the near future. Russia and Algeria have had a long relationship, especially in the procurement of Russian military technology by Algiers. Possible Arab countries that may enter into space cooperation relationships with Moscow include Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, although other Arab countries may also be interested. Other countries that Russia seeks to target for expanded space cooperation, according to Borisov, include Angola and Vietnam.
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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