Middle East Space Roundup: 8 to 14 October 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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The Hamas Attack and Israel’s Intelligence Failure: Did Reconnaissance Satellites Fail?
The surprise attack by Hamas on Israel highlights the limitations of existing reconnaissance satellites, which are unable to provide constant, high-resolution imagery due to their orbits, argues Audrey Decker of U.S. online publication Defense One. Experts suggest that the recent conflict underscores the need for persistent satellite coverage from orbit, emphasising the importance of space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems. Efforts are underway in the United States to expand its space-based ISR capabilities, including the development of military satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is collaborating with other intelligence agencies to ensure the relevance and capability of U.S. satellites. While the exact reasons for the unexpected attack are still being investigated, it has raised questions about the effectiveness of intelligence forces. Additionally, there are ongoing inquiries into Iran's involvement in the conflict. To enhance intelligence capabilities, experts suggest leveraging AI-enabled algorithms and various data sources, including human intelligence and social media, to supplement traditional ISR techniques. While the Hamas attack is certainly the worst Israeli intelligence failure since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, its causes have yet to be identified and it may turn out that Israel’s reconnaissance satellites did capture imagery that may have provided indications and warnings of the attack and its preparations. Intelligence failures are complex and are usually caused by lapses in organisational cultures and political uses of intelligence, not technology.
Iran Plans Discussions with Russia on Building Khayyam-2 Earth Observation Satellite, Other Systems
Iran is planning to hold discussions with Russia regarding the construction of the Khayyam-2 Earth observation satellite. The planned discussions will also include Iranian and Russian cooperation on a small “geosatellite,” and a communications satellite, according to the Russian news agency TASS. Additionally, Iran intends to launch at least eight new satellites soon and develop a system known as the General Soleimani Satellite System, a constellation consisting of 10 small satellites for Internet of Things (IoT) services. Iran's Information and Communications Technology Minister has also announced plans to send humans into space within the next five years, and the Iranian Space Agency is working on the Sarir launch vehicle for placing satellites into geostationary orbit, designing the nation's first synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellite, and developing a new communications satellite named Nahid-3.
Azerbaijan Signs Up to China’s International Lunar Research Station Programme
Azerbaijan has entered into a cooperation agreement with China's International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, signed during the 74th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) held in Baku, Azerbaijan. The specifics of the cooperation were not disclosed, but the agreement involves extensive collaboration in demonstrating, implementing, operating, and applying the ILRS, as well as training and other areas. The ILRS aims to establish a permanent lunar base by the 2030s, positioning it as a potential competitor to NASA's Artemis Programme. China has attracted approximately 15 partners for the ILRS initiative, including Russia, Venezuela, and South Africa. This development underscores the growing significance of lunar exploration and international partnerships in space endeavours, with both China and the United States actively expanding their networks of collaborators in these efforts.
European Space Agency Looking to Cooperate with UAE on Climate Change Monitoring at COP28
Josef Aschbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), is set to attend the COP28 summit in Dubai to discuss expanding cooperation with the UAE, possibly involving climate change monitoring. ESA and the UAE Space Agency have collaborated previously, but a potential deal at the UN international climate negotiations would mark the first such agreement between ESA and an Arab country. Aschbacher views the UAE as an emerging space power and is eager to explore further cooperation. At COP28, ESA will present the Copernicus Earth observation programme that it jointly operates with the European Commission, which monitors environmental changes for security and climate change purposes. This move underscores the increasing importance of space for civilian and military purposes, with space being regarded as a strategic domain, particularly evident following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Investments in space and defence have surged, emphasising the integral role of space in security.
Saudi Space Agency Partners with KAUST for Space Technology Research and Development
The Saudi Space Agency (SSA) has embarked on a strategic partnership with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to evaluate and enhance the Kingdom's space programme, with the goal of positioning it among the top ten globally. The collaboration involves assessing knowledge and innovation within Saudi Arabia's space sector, spanning research areas such as Earth observation, communications, astronomy, microgravity research, and space situational awareness. By tapping into KAUST's research capabilities, the SSA aims to identify existing expertise and set ambitious research, development, and innovation (RDI) goals. This initiative aligns with Saudi Arabia's National Space Strategy and its focus on advancing 58 space-related initiatives, emphasising RDI value chains. The SSA's partnership with KAUST underscores the growing importance of national and international collaboration in space endeavours and signals Saudi Arabia's commitment to becoming a prominent player in the space industry.
Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan Poised for Increased Space Cooperation
Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are poised for increased collaboration in the space industry, with significant potential for joint ventures. The two countries have successfully exchanged Earth observation data and established a legal framework to facilitate this cooperation. They intend to expand their partnership further, including the development of joint satellite services and groupings. Both countries recognise the growing market for remote sensing services and aim to capitalise on it by combining their resources and expertise. Additionally, the Organization of Turkic States (OTG) countries may join these initiatives, paving the way for large-scale projects that benefit all participants. Furthermore, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in satellite data processing promises to revolutionise the space sector, enabling faster and more efficient responses to data analysis, thus fostering innovation and technological advancement in space-related industries.
Iran Lodges Formal Complaint with ITU about SpaceX’s Starlink Operations Within its Borders
Iran has lodged a formal complaint with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) concerning the use of Elon Musk's Starlink satellite broadband internet system within its borders. Iran alleges that the operation of Starlink in the country violates both Iranian regulations and ITU rules. The complaint highlights instances of Starlink equipment being installed within Iran, some of which were reportedly smuggled into the country. Notably, during setup, a message appears stating that Starlink will not share user information with law enforcement or governments. The complaint also mentions a meeting with a Starlink founder who claimed to have permission from the U.S. State Department to operate Starlink in Iran. This issue emerges as SpaceX plans back-to-back Starlink satellite launches from launch centres in Florida and California.
Yahsat’s Al Yah-3 SATCOM Propulsion Issues Contribute to Losses in Satellite Insurance Market
Insurers are facing increasing losses in the space industry as propulsion issues on four satellites, including Yahsat's Al Yah-3 communications satellite in geostationary orbit. Yahsat is the UAE’s premier commercial satellite operator. The other satellites affected include Avanti Communications' Hylas-4, and Northrop Grumman's MEV-1 and MEV-2. These propulsion issues result in expected claims of at least $50 million. These problems add to insurers' woes, with losses already exceeding $800 million in 2022 due to spacecraft failures. The issue stems from onboard Power Processing Units (PPUs) provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which supply electrical power for station-keeping in geostationary orbit. While reducing the voltage supplied by remaining PPUs has temporarily mitigated the problem, it will impact the satellites' 15-year design life. This situation is further challenging the space insurance market, which is experiencing one of its worst years in two decades, prompting some underwriters to consider withdrawing from the sector.
Iran’s First Privately Owned Satellite to be Launched by Russia in December 2023
Russia is preparing to launch Iran's first privately owned satellite in December 2023, a significant step for both countries. Developed by Iranian satellite manufacturer SpaceOMID, the Earth observation satellite, named Kosar Earth-imaging CubeSat, will be launched aboard a Russian Soyuz-2 launch vehicle as a secondary payload. This collaboration between SpaceOMID and Glavkosmos, the commercial arm of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, highlights Iran's growing capabilities in the space sector and its entry into the commercial space industry. By choosing the reliable Soyuz-2 rocket, Iran aims for a safe and efficient deployment, emphasising the importance of international partnerships in advancing its space ambitions. This achievement paves the way for future collaboration and technological advancements in satellite technology within Iran's expanding in the commercial space arena.
Saudi Arabia’s SAMI in Advanced Talks with France’s DGA on Military Space Technology Transfers
France's Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA) is reportedly in discussions with Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) to enhance Saudi Arabia’s space capabilities, according to Tactical Report. SAMI's CEO, Walid Abukhaled, is reviewing offers from French companies such as Thales, Airbus, ArianeGroup, and Prométhée Earth Intelligence for optical sensors as part of a large Saudi Earth observation satellite programme. The discussions primarily focus on boosting Earth observation, geospatial intelligence gathering capacities, and satellite interlinks. While DGA has not specified anti-satellite (ASAT) or electronic warfare (EW) technologies in these discussions, further details are expected to be clarified in upcoming talks.
Iran’s Qassem Soleimani IoT Satellite Constellation to be Launched in Two Years
Iran's first Internet of Things (IoT) satellite system project, named after Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, is set to be launched within the next two years, according to the head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), Hossein Salariyeh. The project aims to provide satellite services in communications, particularly for IoT. The ISA has established the technical specifications for the narrowband communication satellites and selected a consortium of private and public firms to design, construct, deliver, test, and launch the satellite constellation. Initially, it will offer narrowband IoT services by collecting data from ground sensors and transmitting it to a reference station. The project, developed entirely by Iranian specialists, represents a significant milestone in Iran's civilian space programme, and demonstrates the country's ability to develop and launch satellites despite Western sanctions.
Djibouti-1B Nanosatellite to be Launched in February 2024 for Water Resource Monitoring
RIDE Space, the Djibouti Ministry of Higher Education and Research, and the Centre Spatial Universitaire de Montpellier (CSUM) have joined forces for Project Hydrosat, which involves designing and integrating Djibouti's second nanosatellite, Djibouti-1B, onto Momentus's Vigoride vehicle for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. This collaboration offers ten African students the opportunity to engage in the satellite project. Djibouti-1B will serve the Djibouti Center for Study and Research (CERD) by transmitting meteorological data to the Missions Control Center in Djibouti, aiding in tracking changes in water resources and monitoring regions affected by drought and water scarcity. The satellite is scheduled for launch in February 2024, contributing to vital climate data collection and water resource management in Djibouti.
1997 U.S. Law Restricts Sale of High-Resolution Satellite Images of Israel by U.S. Companies
The 1997 Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) restricts U.S. companies from releasing high-resolution satellite imagery of Israel, allowing only 2-meter resolution images to be disseminated. This restriction was relaxed in July 2020, allowing for 40-centimeter resolution imagery, but the limitation remains in place over Israel. As a result, images of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas have been limited in quality and quantity from American sources. In contrast, the conflict in Ukraine saw an abundance of high-resolution satellite images leading up to the conflict. This discrepancy is due to the challenges and risks associated with releasing images of active conflicts, making it safer to release older or less detailed data. Whether this conflict will lead to a change in the law remains uncertain, but it could potentially happen through congressional action or if the law is seen as obstructing U.S. assistance to its allies in the future. The ultimate goal is to strike a balance between protecting national interests and ensuring transparency and cooperation.
UAE Space Agency Initiates Climate-Themed Space Startup Pitch Competition at Dubai Airshow
The UAE Space Agency, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Bayanat, and Planet, has initiated the Space Startup Pitch Competition – Sustainability for and from Space, under the Vista Space Challenge at the Dubai Airshow. This competition aims to provide global startups with a platform to present innovative solutions addressing climate change and enhancing Earth's resource sustainability through space technologies. It encourages AI projects focusing on space-related data analysis and long-term solutions for space missions and environmental challenges on Earth. Startups can apply until 19 October 2023, with finalists pitching their projects at the Dubai Airshow in November 2023. The top three winners will receive financial rewards and mentorship opportunities from industry experts. Additionally, they will access markets and promote their solutions during COP28 in Dubai. These initiatives align with the UAE Space Agency's partnerships with Bayanat, Planet, and AWS, which aim to foster knowledge-based, sustainable economies and enhance the space sector's capabilities.
Azerbaijan’s Azercosmos Signs Cooperation Agreement with UAE’s Bayanat for Earth Observation Data Analytics
Azercosmos, Azerbaijan's national satellite operator, has entered into a cooperation agreement with Bayanat, the UAE’s geospatial analytics company. The agreement focuses on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) collaboration, with an emphasis on promoting potential projects related to remote sensing data acquisition, processing, and application. It also includes knowledge sharing, where Azercosmos will gain access to Bayanat's geospatial information platform for a year. The partnership aims to expand the use of Earth observation solutions in oil and gas mapping and research. Additionally, Bayanat will conduct training programs in Azerbaijan, particularly in areas like artificial intelligence, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology, geographic information systems, and remote sensing solutions. Bayanat, known for its four decades of expertise in geographic information and geospatial data analytics, brings valuable knowledge to this collaboration.
Iran’s UN Ambassador Hits Back at Western Criticisms of Iranian Space Programme
Iran's permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, has affirmed Iran's determination to continue its activities related to ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles within the boundaries of international law. This statement was made in response to recent claims by Britain, Germany, and France that Iran's space activities breach Security Council resolutions. Iravani rejected these allegations and reiterated that Iran's missile and space programmes do not fall under the purview of Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015). He criticised politically motivated attempts to demonise the use of space technology for peaceful purposes by developing countries, emphasising the importance of ensuring equal access to space science, technologies, and applications. Despite Western sanctions, Iran has made significant progress in its civilian space programme and is among the top 10 countries capable of developing and launching satellites. Iran's stance reflects its commitment to asserting its rights under international law in the space domain, said the ambassador.
Iran Makes Commercial Case for its Chabahar Space Centre Launch Site
The Chabahar Space Centre in southeast Iran, set to complete its first phase by 2024, is emerging as a strategically positioned regional space launch site. Beyond serving Iran's satellite launches, it extends its capabilities to international partners, offering the potential for increased revenue. This initiative is part of Iran's broader push into space exploration, with a focus on satellite technology. The centre's location near the Indian Ocean, its spacious facility, and its proximity to the equator provide ideal conditions for satellite placement and launches, reducing costs and enhancing safety. The facility is designed to accommodate a range of space missions, emphasising its non-military nature and its potential to foster international collaboration. The completion of the Chabahar Space Centre in 2024 represents a significant step forward, highlighting its promise as a revenue-generating asset for Iran.
Azerbaijan’s Azercosmos and Renewable Energy Agency to Use Satellite Imagery to Identify Resources
Azercosmos, the space agency of Azerbaijan, and the Azerbaijan Renewable Energy Agency, part of the Ministry of Energy, have entered into a cooperative agreement aimed at leveraging satellite imagery for renewable energy projects. The agreement entails the utilisation of satellite images and their solutions in assessing and harnessing renewable energy sources within Azerbaijan. These satellite images will provide the means to identify and evaluate renewable energy resources while creating maps of potential areas for such initiatives. Additionally, a training programme is set to be developed, enabling experts from both agencies to share knowledge and skills related to the assessment of renewable energy sources. This collaboration signifies a strategic effort to harness space technology for sustainable energy development within the country.
Other News in Brief
Among the other regional space and satellite developments over the past week are:
The UAE Cabinet, chaired by Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, approved the restructuring of the Board of Directors of the UAE Space Agency, chaired by Sarah Bint Yousif Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology;
The Chief of Staff of the Qatar Armed Forces visited Pakistan where he and the Chief of the Air Staff of Pakistan’s Air Force discussed defence cooperation, including cooperation in the space domain;
Arabsat, headquartered in Saudi Arabia, presented groundbreaking satellite-connected agricultural solutions at the Arab Food Security Conference & Exhibition in Morocco;
Abdulla Al Swaha, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, held talks in Tokyo, Japan, with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to discuss space exploration and robotics cooperation;
Indian Commentator Calls for Establishment of India-UAE Space Corridor
The UAE's burgeoning space programme, marked by successful missions and ambitious goals, presents significant opportunities for cutting-edge space technology startups, particularly in collaboration with India, writes Shraddha Bhandari in The Times of India. Dubai, home to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), has played a pivotal role in this development, producing its first satellite, KhalifaSat, in 2018 and contributing to the UAE Astronaut Programme. The UAE's commitment to the space sector is demonstrated by the establishment of the AED 3 billion ($820 million) National Space Fund, making space investments exceeding AED 22 billion ($6 billion). Collaboration between India and the UAE are expanding, focusing on the localisation of critical space and defence manufacturing and sharing technology expertise. This cooperation paves the way for an India-UAE space corridor, capitalising on each country's strengths. Start-ups are expected to play a crucial role in this ecosystem, particularly in satellite components, satellite parts manufacturing, knowledge transfer, and material supply. As both countries work together to develop their space capabilities, they see opportunities for mutual benefits and collaborative advancements in space exploration.
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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