Middle East Space Roundup: 5-11 March 2023
A summary of all the space news in the Greater Middle East over the past week
The following are the major space developments in the Greater Middle East region tracked by Middle East Space Monitor over the past week:
6 March 2023
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Iran announced that two of its indigenously-made satellites will be launched by Russia in December 2023. The first of the two satellites, Kowsar, is an Earth observation satellite with a reported resolution of 3.5 meters and will be placed in low-Earth orbit at 500 kilometres altitude. The Kowsar will, reportedly, be used for agricultural monitoring and surveying. The second satellite, Hodhod, is a small communications satellite to be used for Internet of Things (IoT) applications such as agriculture, transportation, and disaster management, and will also be placed in low-Earth orbit at 500 kilometres altitude.
7 March 2023
The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) hosts the 17th edition of the International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2023) in Dubai. The conference was opened by Hamad Al Mansoori, Chairman of MBRSC, Yousuf Al Shaibani, Deputy Chairman of MBRSC, Salem Humaid Al Marri, Director-General of MBRSC, and was attended by Ali Al Hashemi, the CEO of Yahsat. Over 1,000 attendees registered to attend and national space agencies represented at the event included those from France, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea, and the United States.
On the sidelines of SpaceOps 2023 in Dubai, Salem Al Marri, the Director-General of MBRSC, spoke to local media about the UAE’s human spaceflight ambitions following the successful launch of UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi the prior week to the International Space Station. Al Marri said that two other Emirati astronauts, Hazzaa Al Mansouri and Nora Al Matrooshi, are in constant training in order to be ready for further space missions in the coming three to five years. Rather than have these missions occur as one-offs, Al Marri said “we want to be an active participant of human space flight missions, not just astronauts who are participants on short or long duration flights. However, that means the entire science community, universities, the engineering community here, should be behind what can be done. That’s our long-term strategy.”
French online news platform Intelligence Online reports that a small Riyadh-based consultancy called OceanX has been tapped by the Saudi Space Commission’s Space Accelerator Programme (SAP) to guide Earth observation and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) startups in the programme. Among the startups participating in SAP are SARSat Arabia and the Saudi-UAE Earth observation data analytics company Stellaria. SAP offers each startup in its programme the equivalent of $16,000 each, a modest amount by international standards, but a significant step in the region. SAP is headed by Frank Salzberger, formerly of the European Space Agency and now with the Saudi Space Commission.
The President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, makes an official visit to the United Arab Emirates and was hosted by the UAE President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi. The two presidents, and their accompanying ministers and advisors, discussed a range of bilateral issues to include space cooperation.
8 March 2023
The UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has begun work on its next lunar mission as senior officials warn that lunar landing missions have a failure rate of 40-50 percent. The UAE’s Rashid Rover, currently on board the ispace Hakuto-R lunar lander on its way to the moon, is to land on the lunar surface on 25 April 2023. Speaking at the SpaceOps 2023 conference in Dubai, MBRSC’s Dr. Hamad Al Marzooqi, Project Manager of the Emirates Lunar Mission, said, "Whether we successfully land on the moon or not, well, it’s a risky business but again it’s not the end. We have already started working and planning for the next operation at MBRSC irrespective of this success. We’ve started work on the concepts and objectives but have not decided on a name yet. It’s not the end, if it doesn’t happen this time, it will be (considered) a trial and we will continue with the second, third and so and so forth (missions) until we succeed.”
9 March 2023
UK-headquartered public services provider Serco opens its Saudi space division in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to bid on and support large Saudi space contracts. Serco has appointed Amar Vora, formerly of the company’s UK space practice, to head up the Saudi space division. Phil Salem, CEO of Serco Middle East, said, “In establishing our Saudi Space division, Serco will be bringing decades of experience and expertise to a region where capabilities might still be relatively new, but there is very much the potential and resources to quickly become one of the leading countries worldwide in the space industry. Amar Vora is a highly skilled member of our international space division and under his guidance we will be building a local division, with locally trained team members, that will support both the goals of the Saudi government and Saudi Space Commission within Vision 2030.”
China's Jiangsu Overseas Cooperation and Investment Company (JOCIC) hosted the first Chinese Industrial Products Exhibition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Among the Chinese companies exhibiting at the event is space resources company Origin Space.
A Chinese GEOINT company is indirectly participating in the Saudi Space Commission’s Space Accelerator Programme for Earth observation startups, according to Intelligence Online. Saudi GEOINT startup NorthStar is participating in the Space Accelerator Programme also happens to be the Saudi distributor for Chinese GEOINT data analytics company Star.Vision. NorthStar is providing GEOINT data to Saudi defence and intelligence entities, to include data from from Star.Vision. Apparently Star.Vision is currently using data from Chinese and European satellite imagery providers, but is preparing to launch a constellation of optical Earth observation satellites called WonderJourney and, after that, a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth observation satellite constellation to be called WonderExplore. Star.Vision is staffed by former employees of Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. Intelligence Online also says that Star.Vision and ZTE are advised in the Middle East by Egyptian national Abdel Aziz Bassiouni, a former military signals officer. Star.Vision also has a branch in Egypt and has interests in Oman.
10 March 2023
Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks is to acquire U.S. company DataPath in order to access the lucrative U.S. defence market. Gilat is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of satellite communication components and hardware such as Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT), and maritime and aviation connectivity products. DataPath supplies satellite communications terminals to the U.S. military.
Israel’s satellite industry is in with a chance to provide Vietnam with its next high-resolution Earth observation satellite after France’s Airbus suffers a setback with Vietnamese officials, according to Intelligence Online. The online intelligence news site suggests that the Vietnamese government has “balked” at the cost of the Airbus proposal for the VNREDSAT-2 Earth observation satellite. This could boost the proposal made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems, although this may also be imperilled by the conviction in absentia of prominent Vietnamese businesswoman Nguyen Thi Thanh Nhan, an intermediary for Israeli business, for bribery and corruption. The Vietnamese government is keen to diversify its sources for high technology away from France and Russia.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf says in an. interview that the United States is not demanding that countries in the Middle East choose between the U.S. and China in technology acquisition, but it will make every effort to prevent China from acquiring U.S. technological intellectual property through espionage. Leaf, speaking with Al Monitor, says “We are not asking our friends or frenemies to choose between us and the PRC [People's Republic of China]. It’s not the Cold War.” Leaf warns, however, that certain technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing (and, presumably, some space and satellite technologies) can be “no-go” issues when it comes to cooperation with China. Leaf says “We do have certain delineations of no-go areas in terms of our own high-end advanced technology … we are going to do our utmost to protect that technology. When it comes to AI [artificial intelligence] and quantum computing and so forth, our most precious high-end technology, we're going to be very, very protective, and that may occasionally cause friction with our partners.”
The CEO of Saudi Space Commission, Dr. Mohammed Saud Al Tamimi, meets with Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, and with Indian space industry during a visit to Bengaluru, India. The delegation from Saudi Arabia discussed various areas of potential bilateral space cooperation with their Indian hosts, to include possible investment opportunities in the new liberalised Indian space industry sector
The Egyptian Space Agency (EGSA) and the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation for the peaceful exploration of outer space, to include exchange of experiences, visits, joint activities, training, capacity building, space science, satellite development, and the environmental field in connection with space.
Iran complains to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regarding U.S. regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, allowing SpaceX’s Starlink to provide satellite internet in Iran. Iranian authorities have long claimed that providing unauthorised satellite television and internet services into Iran is a breach of sovereignty and is often characterised as a ‘Soft War’ against the country. SpaceX has provided hundreds of Starlink terminals smuggled into Iran, especially since the start of mass protests in the country after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022.
Be sure to catch up with space activities in the region in the next edition of Middle East Space Monitor’s space roundup!