Middle East Space Roundup: 5 to 11 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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UAE Space Officials in Washington, DC, for Talks with the United States
Omran Sharaf, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Advanced Science and Technology, led a UAE delegation to Washington, DC, for discussions on enhancing cooperation in science, technology, and space. The meetings encompassed a wide range of topics, including mutual interests, strategies for bilateral cooperation, and the co-development of knowledge with U.S. counterparts. The UAE already enjoys robust cooperation with the U.S. across sectors like clean energy, food security, artificial intelligence, and space. The delegation's visit emphasised the significance of strengthening advanced technology, science, and space diplomacy between the two countries, highlighting their commitment to working together on shared priorities, including addressing global issues like climate change and food security.
Saudi Arabia’s Communications, Space, and Technology Commission Issues Commercial Space Report
Saudi Arabia's space industry is poised for substantial growth, having generated $400 million in revenue in 2022. The KSA Space Market Investment Opportunities Report, published by the Communications, Space & Technology Commission (CST), indicates that the space sector is expected to reach an average annual value of $2.2 billion from 2023 to 2030, presenting significant opportunities. The development of sovereign capabilities for spacecraft, particularly in small satellite manufacturing, is highlighted as a pivotal subsector. The Middle East is projected to launch around 148 satellites by 2030, offering a largely untapped market opportunity. However, the report acknowledges challenges, including a competitive global market and increased supporting costs. To overcome these hurdles, the report recommends key enablers such as a space sectoral fund, incentive programmes, and upskilling initiatives. It also underscores the importance of launch services, ground networks, satellite-based communication connectivity, sixth-generation technology, and space tourism in driving the sector's growth. On a global scale, government investment in space reached $100 billion in 2022 among 86 countries, with the Middle East accounting for $1.2 billion across 9 countries. The global space economy is projected to reach $738 billion in 2030 from $464 billion in 2022.
UAE’s Yahsat Outlines Key Future Business Objectives
Yahsat, the UAE-based satellite communications company, has outlined its key business objectives that drive its growth and success in the satellite communications market. These objectives include providing reliable connectivity solutions to underserved areas, expanding its satellite fleet and coverage areas, diversifying its services, emphasising innovation in satellite technology, and maintaining a strong customer focus. Yahsat also highlights its use of artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI to optimise operations, improve efficiency, and enhance safety. AI technologies are used for predictive maintenance, resource allocation, supply chain management, risk management, and mission planning. Generative AI aids in designing and prototyping satellite configurations. Yahsat has collaborated with Hub71 to accelerate technology adoption in satellite communications, including utilizing virtual reality (VR) technology for personnel training. The company also implemented Oracle Cloud Applications to streamline its business operations and enhance data accuracy and security, ultimately boosting efficiency and productivity.
Israel’s Edgybees Showcases Advanced AI Software for Satellite Imagery in Fight Against Hamas
Israeli startup Edgybees has developed advanced artificial intelligence software that is being used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to enhance the precision of their operations in the Gaza Strip. The software aligns real-time images and videos captured by drones and satellites with dated reference photos of the area, ensuring accuracy in pinpointing locations. Unlike manual alignment, which can take hours for a single photo, Edgybees' technology can automatically align images within a minute. This not only improves the accuracy of airstrikes and ground operations but also enhances communication between troops. The software has applications beyond defence, including monitoring mining operations, assessing damage from natural disasters, and power grid planning. Edgybees was initially founded to create augmented reality games for drone users but shifted its focus to provide solutions for emergency response teams, with applications ranging from aiding firefighters battling wildfires to assisting hurricane and tornado damage assessment.
Armenia in Talks with SpaceX for Provision of Starlink; Team Telecom Completes IPO
Team Telecom, an Armenian telecommunications company, has completed its initial public offering (IPO), listing approximately 40 million shares worth $19.8 million on the Armenian Securities Exchange. This IPO has brought in around 1,000 investors, and the funds raised will be used to expand Team Telecom's NGN fiber-optic network across Armenia, deploy a 5G mobile network, and establish new international communication links. The move reflects Team Telecom's commitment to developing the telecommunications sector in Armenia. In parallel, Armenia's Minister of High Technologies Industry, Robert Khachatryan, is reportedly in discussions with SpaceX regarding the potential launch of Starlink satellite broadband in Armenia. This could provide an alternative means of communication in areas with limited connectivity.
Israel Leveraging Reconnaissance Satellites and Other Geospatial Capabilities Against Hamas
Amid its ground offensive in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are leveraging their intelligence resources, particularly the geospatial intelligence unit known as Unit 9900, to map the complex network of tunnels constructed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. These underground structures are hidden from aerial view, necessitating the use of specialised technologies such as Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (Lidar) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for detection. Israel's Ofek-13 satellite plays a crucial role in identifying tunnel entrances and exits, which are often concealed within civilian infrastructure. The IDF employs a combination of surveillance techniques, including spy planes with X-band and L-band radar as well as Lidar-equipped aircraft, to map the terrain and detect minute structural variations. This meticulous geospatial intelligence work is essential for the IDF's Yahalom unit, tasked with tunnel exploration and destruction, providing them with a valuable tool for their operations. This approach combines technical data, human intelligence, and interception to create a comprehensive map of Hamas's underground network.
Türkiye and Azerbaijan Consider Joint Development of Low-Earth Orbit SATCOM Constellation
Türkiye and Azerbaijan are considering potential cooperation in developing low-Earth orbit satellites, as stated by Turkish Deputy Minister of Industry and Technology Ahmet Yozgatligil. The Turkish space industry has been experiencing significant growth, and collaboration with Azercosmos, Azerbaijan's space agency, is being explored in areas such as low-Earth orbit satellites for applications like the Internet of Things (IoT) and communications. Low-Earth orbit satellites play pivotal roles in global communications, navigation, and meteorology. Azercosmos aims to expand its space research capabilities and currently operates three satellites with a vision of contributing to the global space industry and fostering a space ecosystem in Azerbaijan through international partnerships and local expertise.
UAE’s Yahsat Posts Strong Q3 2023 Financial Results
Yahsat, the UAE satellite communications company and subsidiary of Mubadala Investment Company, reported a net profit of $26.4 million in the third quarter, a turnaround from the $10.2 million loss it experienced in the same period the previous year. This shift in profitability was driven by robust performance in its mobility solutions business and increased finance income. Revenue for the quarter grew by 8 percent to $117.4 million, the second-highest on record. For the first nine months of the year, Yahsat's profit attributable to shareholders more than doubled to $71.7 million, with revenue increasing by 2.5 percent to $322.5 million. The company's strong financial position and low leverage support its progressive dividend policy. Yahsat also has future investment plans for satellite projects, including Al Yah-4 and Al Yah-5, expected to launch in 2027 and 2028, respectively.
Overview of U.S. Legal Restrictions on Sale of Commercial Satellite Imagery of Israel
The United States restricts the sale of high-resolution satellite imagery of Israel to a resolution of 40 centimeters per pixel or less, a unique limitation compared to other countries. This restriction dates back to the 1990s when concerns arose that rivals could gain a strategic advantage by purchasing higher-resolution reconnaissance photos from American satellite companies. Consequently, rules were enacted to prevent U.S. companies from selling data of better quality than that available from foreign competitors. Although these restrictions have been eased for many countries, particularly as the space economy has grown, they persist for Israel due to the 1997 Kyl-Bingaman Amendment. This law was created to address the specific security concerns of Israel, making it illegal for U.S. firms to sell higher-quality imagery over Israel than what is available in the international market. While U.S. satellite operators can still collect data within these limits, the political sensitivity and potential consequences related to the Israeli-Hamas conflict have led many companies to be cautious about sharing information related to war zones.
Israel’s Gilat Announces Q3 2023 Financial Results
Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks, a leader in satellite networking technology and services, reported its Q3 2023 financial results. The company recorded revenues of $63.9 million, a 6% increase compared to the same period in 2022. GAAP operating income reached $12.7 million, notably higher than the $3.4 million in Q3 2022, with this quarter's result including a one-time other income of $7.4 million related to legal proceedings and a real estate sale. Non-GAAP operating income rose by 40% to $6.1 million. GAAP net income reached $10.2 million, compared to $2.1 million in Q3 2022, with non-GAAP net income at $4.6 million, a 51% increase. Adjusted EBITDA amounted to $9.5 million, up 30% from Q3 2022. The company also provided forward-looking expectations, including narrowed revenue guidance of $265 million to $275 million for 2023, representing a 13% year-over-year growth at the mid-point, and increased GAAP operating income guidance. Gilat highlighted its strong performance, with Adjusted EBITDA for the first nine months of 2023 exceeding the figure for the entire year of 2022, expressing confidence in its growth prospects.
Türkiye Announces Successful Completion of Tests for Turksat-6A SATCOM
Türkiye's Industry and Technology Minister, Mehmet Fatih Kacır, has announced the successful completion of tests for Türksat-6A, Türkiye's first domestically produced communications satellite. The satellite is expected to be launched in the coming months. Kacır highlighted Türkiye's achievements in space technology, including the launch of İMECE, the country's first domestically-built high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite. Kacır also discussed efforts to promote science and education, including the opening of new science centres and student participation in science workshops. These developments reflect Türkiye's commitment to advancing its technological capabilities across various sectors.
Türkiye Aims to Launch Lunar Probe by 2026
Türkiye is advancing its space ambitions with the goal of completing its first spacecraft developed as part of the Lunar Research Program (AYAP) by 2026. This initiative is part of Türkiye's National Space Programme, which aims to establish the country as a presence on the Moon. The AYAP's first phase seeks to explore the Moon from orbit and make initial contact with the lunar surface. The second phase aims to land a rover on the Moon using a soft landing method. The project involves the development of a spacecraft capable of operating in lunar orbit and collecting valuable data about the Moon. Türkiye's investment in space technology and international collaboration is expected to strengthen the country's space ecosystem, increase its competence in space sciences, and inspire interest in space science and technologies among young people. The success of this mission could open the door to deep space exploration for Türkiye.
Saudi Arabia’s Taif Investment Forum to Invest $5 Billion in Mars-Themed City
Saudi Arabia is set to invest $5 billion in the development of a Mars-themed city, rose-growing industry, and five five-star tourist resorts in Taif. Contracts worth $2.9 billion have been signed with Chinese and Korean firms at the Taif Investment Forum. The Mars-themed project, named Mars War, is valued at $1.3 billion for its first phase and could reach $5.3 billion in the final stage. The project will be carried out in collaboration with the Beijing Technology Group and will include the establishment of an emergency information center. Additionally, there are plans for cooling material for computers to reduce energy consumption, the creation of a Saudi unicorn company for growing roses, and various municipal projects. This investment aligns with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, aiming to enhance the quality of life, boost tourism, and provide diverse opportunities for its citizens and residents.
U.S. Commercial Earth Observation Companies Restrain Provision of Israel Images
The use of commercial satellite imagery in revealing Israeli military activities against Hamas in Gaza has prompted a discussion on its regulation and dissemination. Despite U.S. officials stating they won't impose changes on satellite imagery companies, some have appeared to slow down the release of such images to the public. Companies like Planet Labs and Maxar Technologies have allowed news agencies to document the Israel-Hamas conflict, but reports suggest that some imagery has been restricted since the ground invasion of Gaza. While the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oversees satellite imagery regulation, it has not added additional restrictions and focuses on license compliance. U.S. law has long restricted the release of high-resolution satellite imagery of Israel. However, the challenge arises when such imagery can reveal sensitive information about U.S. allies at war. Instead of invoking "shutter control," which hasn't been used, the government may request companies to exercise discretion to avoid antagonising a significant customer. The expansion of commercial remote sensing is transforming transparency in warfare, posing both advantages and challenges for governments and their allies.
UAE Academic Calls for Consensus on Islamic Practices for Muslim Astronauts
Dr. Maryam Al Hattali, a professor at Mohamed bin Zayed University for Humanities in Abu Dhabi, has emphasised the need for concessions in religious practices for astronauts during long-term space missions. She addressed Islamic experts at a conference organized by the UAE Council for Fatwa, highlighting that performing ablution is a major challenge in space. Al Hattali urged scholars to issue Islamic rulings (fatwas) related to space, especially for acts of worship like prayers and fasting, to alleviate hardships for astronauts conducting vital scientific work. With more Muslim astronauts participating in space exploration, there is a growing need for clear guidelines regarding religious practices. These guidelines could include allowances for fasting or modified prayer procedures to accommodate the unique conditions of space, such as microgravity and limited resources. The goal is to make it easier for astronauts to practice their faith while contributing to humanity's scientific advancements in space.
Report Alleges North Korea Assisted Iran in Developing Space Launch Vehicles
Recent events and growing evidence highlight the evolving military cooperation between Iran and North Korea, particularly in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. While Iran's drone exports and North Korea's artillery shell shipments to Russia have gained attention, the two countries have maintained a more discreet alliance. Chief of Staff of Iran's Armed Forces Mohammad Hossein Bagheri's congratulatory message to North Korea's Chief of the General Staff Pak Su-Il signaled a desire to bolster cooperation against what they view as disruptive global security measures, possibly including the criticism from South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol. This cooperation between Iran and North Korea has deepened since the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal in 2018, encompassing ballistic missile collaboration and economic ties. Given the slim prospects for JCPOA revival and Iran's current leadership, this collaboration is likely to continue. Notably, their military cooperation, which may be limited to the ballistic missile realm, has been facilitated by entities like Iran's Shahid Hemat Industrial Group and North Korea's Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation. These entities have reportedly even cooperated on the development of Iranian space launch vehicles. Sanctions have been imposed on key figures involved in this partnership, emphasising the significance of this covert relationship.
Arab Partners of the Belt and Road Inititaive Hail Space and Technological Cooperation with China
Abdel Nasser B. Singab, chairman of Egypt's Ain Shams University's Center for Drug Discovery Research, has initiated collaborative research with Chinese partners, bringing experimental specimens to China. Ain Shams University and China's Southwest University are jointly working on research and development involving medicinal and edible plants, with forthcoming results. Singab expresses Ain Shams University's eagerness for international science and technology collaborations with Chinese institutions, aiming to leverage each other's strengths for global scientific and technological innovation. The Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange in Chongqing, which just concluded, attracted experts and entrepreneurs from over 80 countries, emphasising the growth of science and technology cooperation between China and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partners. Cooperation in fields like agricultural technology, space satellites, and technology transfer between China and Arab countries has yielded practical results. Students from Arab countries, such as Sudan, are benefiting from advanced facilities and expertise in China, with the intention of fostering scientific exchanges between their home countries and China. China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has found applications in Arab countries, contributing to their economic development and technological progress. China has also deepened cooperation in areas like 5G communications, nuclear energy, and space satellites with Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others. The Belt and Road Initiative framework is expected to further facilitate China-Arab countries' science and technology exchanges and cooperation, given China's expanding technological capabilities and commitment to openness.
UAE and U.S. Astronauts Speak About the Possibility of Emirati Astronauts on the Moon
During a panel discussion at the Sharjah International Book Fair, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Hazzaa Al Mansoori, the first Emirati in space, shared details about the upcoming Artemis mission to explore the Moon. The UAE Space Agency's 2020 accord with NASA established the UAE's participation in Artemis missions, with the next mission, Artemis III, expected to include the first woman to set foot on the Moon. Emirati astronauts Mohammad Al Mulla and Nora Al Matrooshi are presently undergoing intensive training with NASA. Williams emphasised the Moon's significance as a stepping stone before a Mars mission, advocating for sustainable Moon exploration to prepare for more ambitious space endeavours. She expressed confidence that humans would be living on the Moon within the next 10 to 15 years. Both astronauts praised international collaborations and detailed the physical challenges faced by astronauts readjusting to Earth's gravity after space missions, highlighting the importance of rigorous training.
SpaceX Successfully Launches Djibouti’s First Satellite, Djibouti-1A
The Republic of Djibouti has achieved a significant milestone by launching its first satellite, Djibouti-1A, as part of the SpaceX Transporter-9 dedicated SSO rideshare mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base. Djibouti collaborated with its technical partner, the Centre Spatial Universitaire de Montpellier (CSUM), on a capacity-building programme that enabled Djiboutian engineers and technicians in France to design, construct, and test the satellite. This achievement aligns with Djibouti's goal to develop its satellite technology expertise and not simply purchase a satellite. The project resulted in the training of 10 engineers and technicians, who worked with various companies involved in satellite design, manufacturing, and launch, thereby enhancing their skills and software capabilities. Djibouti-1A will provide valuable, real-time climatological and seismic data, aiding policymakers in improving agriculture and monitoring environmental changes across the nation. This achievement underscores Djibouti's technological advancement and its potential to contribute to climate research and development.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
The ambassador of Tunisia to India met with S. Somanath, the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to discuss space cooperation, particularly for the use of satellites in agriculture and water resource management;
CNN runs a story about LingoSat, a wooden satellite being developed by Kyoto University and Japan’s space agency JAXA, and features aerospace engineer Yarjan Abdul Samad of Khalifa University in the UAE who is researching the use of graphene as a more sustainable material for building satellites.
In Spite of Two Decades of Effort, Iran Has Nothing to Show for its Space Programme
Writing for World Politics Review Shahryar Pasandideh of George Washington University discusses Iran's recent satellite launch and its broader space programme. While Iran successfully launched an imaging satellite into orbit in late September 2023, the launch did not signify a significant advancement in Iran's space capabilities. Pasandideh highlights that Iran has been pursuing an independent space launch and satellite design capability for over two decades, beginning in 2004 with the founding of the Iranian Space Agency. However, its early achievements, such as the Omid satellite, had limited practical value. Iran faced technical challenges in developing reliable space launch vehicles (SLVs), such as the Safir and Simorgh. A turning point came in 2020 when Iran unveiled the Qassed SLV, developed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which used new solid-fuel rocket motors, marking a breakthrough in Iranian solid-fuel rocket-motor technology. This development was followed by the Qaem-100, an exclusively solid-fuel SLV. However, Pasandideh emphasises that these developments are the result of long-term efforts, and the Qassed's small payload capacity limits its military implications. The author also notes that Iran's recent imaging satellites, like the Noor series, are small and lack high-resolution capabilities. Additionally, Iran's reliance on foreign assistance, including Russian-built satellites, underscores its continued technological challenges and inability to independently access militarily useful satellites. In summary, Iran's recent satellite launch highlights its ongoing struggles in developing a robust and independent space programme with significant military implications.
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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