Middle East Space Roundup: 9 to 15 July 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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Israel’s IAI Sells SAR Earth Observation Satellite To Singapore
Israel’s Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has sold Singapore a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Earth Observation satellite known as DS-SAR. The satellite, scheduled for launch later this month on 23 July 2023 by an Indian launcher, was jointly acquired by Singapore's Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Engineering. DS-SAR is equipped with a SAR imaging payload capable of capturing images under all weather conditions. It will support the satellite imagery requirements of Singapore government agencies, including maritime security and oil spill detection, while also enhancing ST Engineering's commercial imagery services. Although specific details about the satellite are not provided as yet, it is believed to be a small satellite, and the acquisition reflects Singapore's ongoing investment in small satellites.
Oman Pursuing Space Development And Seeking Investments
Oman is actively pursuing the development of its space programme and seeking investments in the space sector, as announced during the fourth meeting of leaders of the space economy held in India. The country has several key projects underway, including the establishment of an open satellite data platform, a CubeSat project, an earth station project, and a cloud-computing project for space data. The delegation from Oman, led by Dr. Ali Amer al Shidhani, Undersecretary for Communications and Information Technology in the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, participated in discussions during the two-day meeting, which focused on the significance of the space sector to the global economy and explored opportunities for international cooperation in space projects. Oman's participation in the meeting aligns with its commitment to develop the space sector and achieve the objectives of Oman Vision 2040, recognising it as a crucial component of the National Digital Economy Programme and a vital contributor to economic diversification efforts. The Ministry is dedicated to enabling the space sector to play a significant role in realising Oman Vision 2040.
Iran Welcomes Satellite Internet Providers So Long As They Follow Strict Laws
Iran's communications minister, Issa Zarepour, says he welcomes satellite internet service providers, including Starlink, but emphasised that they must adhere to the country's territorial rules. Zarepour stated that the objective is to expand internet connections to remote areas, as approximately 3,500 villages in Iran still lack high-speed internet access. While satellite internet service providers can operate in these regions, Zarepour acknowledged that strict compliance rules would be imposed, including technical cooperation for content censorship. Iran has made similar demands from Western social media platforms, requesting that they do not block access. Starlink, a part of SpaceX, is already offering internet services in nearly 60 countries, but ground stations would be required for its connection to reach all parts of a large country like Iran. The Iranian regime has long restricted internet access and popular social media platforms, impacting businesses, e-commerce, and limiting communication for those supporting anti-regime sentiment and protests.
Saudi Telecom Companies Form Alliance With Regulator; Space Entrepreneurship Alliance Also Created
Saudi Arabia’s telecommunication operators stc Group, Zain KSA, and Etihad Etisalat Company (Mobily) have formed an alliance to enhance decision-making processes in Saudi government entities. The alliance, registered under the Communications, Space, and Technology Commission (CST), operates within the Sandbox, an experimental regulatory environment for innovative solutions. The alliance aims to provide government entities with innovative products and solutions, utilising big data to support decision-making and improve service quality. It also aims to boost the performance efficiency of telecom companies, increase productivity, and facilitate service provision through creative and innovative approaches. Moreover, the partnership seeks to promote economic development and diversification by generating investment and economic opportunities and establishing new markets. The CST has also announced the formation of a space entrepreneurship alliance to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the Saudi space sector, providing access to resources and services. The commission has been actively involved in discussions on metaverse technology in smart cities, focusing on its potential for education, livelihood improvement, and income generation, while promoting access to services, global cooperation, community-building, and civic participation.
IRGC Leader Condemns Iranian Diaspora Working For NASA And Starlink
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the IRGC Aerospace Commander, has criticised Iranians who he claims "use the country's resources" and then go on to work for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or participate in SpaceX’s Starlink project, which he considers "mischievous." Hajizadeh accused these individuals of lacking goals and the ability to distinguish "friends and foes," suggesting that they serve the enemy. While he did not provide specific details about the number of Iranians involved with NASA or Starlink, his remarks appear to stem from concerns about the potential brain drain and migration of skilled personnel from Iran, given the country's security and economic challenges. The criticism reflects the Iranian regime's efforts to address the departure of elites and academics amid challenging economic circumstances through security and judicial measures.
Israel’s Space Plasmatics Developing Plasma Thrusters For Space Debris Removal And Satellite Propulsion
Space Plasmatics, an Israeli space-tech startup, is developing plasma thrusters to address the growing problem of space debris and improve satellite propulsion. Led by Technion professor-turned-entrepreneur Igal Kronhaus, Space Plasmatics aims to use ionized gas in an electric field to maneuver satellites to different orbits or back to Earth. The company's technology, which gets power from solar cells mounted on satellites, has the potential to enhance satellite propulsion and even propel crewed spacecraft for missions to the Moon and Mars. Space Plasmatics has attracted interest from investors, including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and has signed a deal to develop its plasma thrusters for IAI's satellites. The company's innovative approach and expertise in electric propulsion position it among competitors in the space-tech industry, and it plans to have a working version of its product ready by Q2 2025.
UAE’s Yahsat To Spend $100 Million On Thuraya-4 Next Generation Satellite This Year
Yahsat, the UAE’s leading satellite communications operator led by CEO Ali Al Hashemi, plans to allocate over $100 million this year for capital expenditures as part of its Thuraya-4 - Next Generation Satellite (T4-NGS) programme, which is the next-generation telecommunications system for Yahsat subsidiary Thuraya. The programme is expected to begin operational service in H1 2025, with a total cost of up to $550 million. Yahsat Group has invested over $2 billion since its inception in satellite equipment and over $1 billion in ground infrastructure worldwide. The company aims to enhance its satellite fleet and may launch two new satellites, Al Yah 4 and Al Yah 5, to increase capacity for fixed satellite communication services. Yahsat Group offers multi-mission satellite services across various regions, reaching more than 80% of the world's population. The company is interested in expanding into new markets, including direct device communication solutions and the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication fields. Yahsat is also considering launching a satellite constellation for Earth observation and remote sensing in collaboration with the Bayanat geospatial company. Additionally, the company is committed to developing the next generation of Emirati engineers and has established the Yahsat Space Lab for training and skill-building initiatives.
Boeing Committed To Saudi Arabia’s Space Programme
Dr. Brendan Nelson, President of Boeing International (BI), expressed Boeing's commitment to supporting Saudi Arabia in its plans for space exploration. In an interview with Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Nelson highlighted Boeing's involvement in every major American space endeavour and expressed enthusiasm for supporting the Kingdom in this field. He emphasised the exciting stage of growth in the aviation and space sector in Saudi Arabia, noting the country's strategy to develop aviation and tourism as catalysts for broad economic growth. During his recent visit to Riyadh, Nelson met with key government officials and reaffirmed Boeing's dedication to developing the aviation system in Saudi Arabia in line with Vision 2030.
China Aerospace Science And Technology Corporation Delegation Visits Egyptian Space Agency
Professor Sherif Sedky, the CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA), welcomed Mr. Zhang Zhongyang, President of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), and his delegation to the Egyptian Space Agency headquarters for a productive meeting on strengthening and expanding their space cooperation. The visit included a tour of Egypt’s advanced Assembly, Integration, and Testing (AIT) centre, showcasing the agency's cutting-edge capabilities and infrastructure. The meeting served as a significant platform to foster collaboration between the two agencies, with discussions focusing on potential joint projects, knowledge sharing, and technological advancements in space exploration. Professor Sedky expressed gratitude for the visit and emphasised the importance of bilateral cooperation in advancing both countries' space programmes, while Mr. Zhang Zhongyang praised Egypt's progress and expressed China's commitment to supporting its future endeavours. The meeting reaffirmed the agencies' dedication to enhancing their capabilities and leveraging international partnerships to achieve their respective goals in the space sector.
Israel’s Gilat Receives Multi-Million Dollar Contract From Mexican Government
Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd., a leading provider of satellite networking technology and solutions, has announced that it has been awarded a multimillion-dollar contract for a cellular backhaul over satellite project led by a Mexican federal agency. The project, part of the "CFE Telecommunications and Internet for All" initiative, aims to connect hundreds of 4G sites across Mexico to improve access to information and communication technologies. Gilat, known for its expertise in 4G cellular backhaul over satellite solutions, is collaborating with global satellite and hub operators to provide the best solution for the project. The company's leading technology and local presence have proven crucial in meeting the specific requirements of the initiative. Gilat emphasizes its commitment to universal connectivity and views internet connectivity as increasingly vital worldwide. The company is proud to be selected as the partner for this significant project in Mexico by its valued and long-time partners.
Qatar Reportedly Seeking To Acquire Military Satellite
According to Tactical Report, Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has expanded the strategic goals of Qatar National Vision 2030 to include the enhancement of Qatar's aerospace capabilities, particularly in the field of military satellites. The Qatari Ministry of State for Defence Affairs has conducted studies related to the procurement of a military-grade satellite, and Qatar is reportedly in contact with several U.S. defence companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, as well as South Korean and European companies such as Thales Alenia Space. Emir Tamim is inclined to cooperate with U.S. companies that have prior experience in manufacturing military satellites for the Pentagon. While the nature of the talks with the Pentagon and U.S. defence companies remains undisclosed, it is believed that progress is being made and that an agreement between Qatar and the Pentagon may involve training Qatari engineers and technicians in a military satellite training centre. Qatar established Es'hailSat in 2010 as a satellite company to manage and develop its presence in space, and in the mid-2010’s there were rumours that Qatar might procure a military communications satellite. It is unclear from the latest reports what kind of military satellite the Qataris might end up procuring.
Egypt and Czech Republic Discuss Space Cooperation
The Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA) hosted a delegation from the Czech Republic at its headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, to discuss potential collaboration and cooperation in space exploration and technology. The delegates included high-ranking officials from the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Czech Embassy. The meeting focused on the exchange of knowledge, resources, and technological advancements between the two countries to promote mutual growth and progress in their respective space sectors. Egypt has been actively seeking partnerships with various countries, such as China and Russia, to strengthen its space capabilities and accelerate the development of its space industry through international collaboration.
Saudi Arabia Could Be a Potential Leader In Space Medicine According To Expert
Dr. Farhan M. Asrar, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto, has highlighted Saudi Arabia's growing leadership in space and the potential for medical professionals in the field of space medicine. In an interview with Arab News, Dr. Asrar emphasised the importance of space medicine in supporting Saudi Arabia's astronaut program and its role in addressing the health aspects and risks of space missions. He noted that space medicine encompasses various disciplines and collaboration between engineers, policymakers, health professionals, nutritionists, and lawyers is essential in this field. Dr. Asrar also discussed the significance of space medicine for Saudi Vision 2030, as it aligns with the pillars of a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation. He emphasised the unique opportunities for research, career development, and innovative medical approaches that space medicine offers, while also benefiting healthcare on Earth and promoting a good quality of life and well-being.
Azerbaijan Claims Armenian Separatists Are Jamming GPS Satellites (15 July)
According to the Azerbaijani defence ministry, illegal Armenian armed detachments in the territory of Azerbaijan, where the Russian peacekeeping contingent is stationed, have been using radio frequency interference to disrupt the GPS satellite navigation systems of passenger aircraft flying through the airspace of Azerbaijan. On 13 July 2023, the GPS system of an Azerbaijan Airlines Gulfstream G280 aircraft was degraded as a result of radio interference during its flight. The defence ministry expressed concern over the safety threat posed by these incidents and stated that despite repeated appeals to the Russian peacekeeping contingent, no measures have been taken to address the issue.
Regional Space Diplomacy
Among the other regional space diplomacy engagements and agreements over the past week are:
Representatives from Egypt and Türkiye attend the Ninth China International Commercial Aerospace Forum (9th CCAF) in Wuhan, China;
During the annual meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO - comprising Iran, Pakistan, Türkiye, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) Iran held talks with members states on exporting its space technologies.
Making The Case For A GCC Space Strategy
Writing in Arab News, Khaled Abou Zahr argues that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) can learn lessons from Europe, which is facing a period without independent access to space following the retirement of the Ariane 5 rocket, while the anticipated successor, Ariane 6, is still in the later stages of development and testing. This highlights the importance of being able to access Earth orbit, particularly as telecommunications competition and geopolitical tensions increase. Currently, Europe is dependent on other nations for its launch capabilities, with the United States, China, and Russia dominating the global landscape. Europe's small percentage of total launches reveals the challenges it faces in this competitive domain, emphasising the need for stronger collaboration, coordination, and investment in advanced propulsion technologies. The fragmented nature of the European space sector and the lack of a unified strategy have hindered progress, but efforts are being made to foster collaboration and streamline processes. Europe can also learn from the U.S. in terms of contracting practices and promoting public-private partnerships. The GCC can take this as a case study and develop a cohesive regional space strategy, leveraging their combined strengths and resources to maximise the benefits of space activities in the region. By identifying common goals, investing in infrastructure, and nurturing a skilled workforce, the GCC countries can establish themselves as a significant player in the global space industry.
The Lebanese Rocket Society Remembered
KAWA publishes a fascinating profile of Armen Manougian, a Lebanese mathematician and physicist, who developed a fascination with space during his childhood in Palestine. After earning a degree in mathematics and physics, he returned to Lebanon and established the Haigazian College Rocket Society, a club dedicated to astronomy. Despite limited resources, the members ambitiously built rockets using cardboard and pipe scraps, experiencing setbacks and mishaps along the way. The Lebanese army recognized the value of the Rocket Society and provided support through Lieutenant Youssef Wehbe. The club's reputation grew, and they ventured into the thermosphere, approaching the altitude of low-earth orbit satellites. However, conflicts arose as the army sought to exploit the society's achievements for military purposes, and a devastating accident led to the disbandment of the Rocket Society. Manougian left Lebanon and settled in the United States. Recently interest in the Lebanese Rocket Society has been revived, prompting Manougian to preserve Lebanon's contributions and advocate for its potential in space exploration and satellite launches.
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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