Small Country, Big Ambitions – the UAE’s contribution to the global Space Industry

10 February 2020
Small Country, Big Ambitions – the UAE’s contribution to the global Space Industry

As a relatively young nation, founded in 1971, and small in size, the UAE is not likely to have been top-of-mind when it comes to being a leader in space. However, since the establishment of the UAE Space Agency (UAESA) in 2014, and considering being located in a region that did not have much in terms of activities in this domain, we have certainly become a leading country in our part of the world. On a global level, the UAE has also been gaining the attention of traditional space faring nations, as well as many newly established players, all of whom are interested in the accelerated approach the UAE has embraced. With an Astronaut program which put our first astronaut in space last year, a second call for Astronauts this year as well as a Mars Mission launching in July, and an ambitious 100 year plan to build a habitable settlement on Mars, there is no shortage of ambition and more importantly, execution on the leadership’s vision to become a leading player globally in space.

The UAE’s mission to explore space dates back to the 1970s, when the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan met with the Apollo 17 astronauts - Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt  who had returned from the moon. Since then Sheikh Zayed’s vision has been a driving force, encouraging us to look at how space can enable the betterment of humanity and particularly support in mitigating some of the challenges our region faced, especially climate and environmental issues.

As the facilitator of the UAE’s space sector, the UAESA always strives to enhance the position of the UAE in the global space sector. As part of our mission, we seek to develop new space technologies for peaceful space exploration, establish new partnerships, and develop our human capabilities, to accelerate the diversification of our national economy.   

We are proud to witness the achievements of the different space entities in the UAE, and build upon these achievements in order to reach the stars. Currently, the UAE has 10 satellites in orbit, each serving a different purpose, and another 8 satellites are being manufactured to bring about a wide range of benefits for earth and humanity.

The UAE’s first satellite, Thuraya-1, which was launched in 2000, became the Middle East’s first mobile telecommunications satellite. Other satellites include Al Yah 3, owned by Al Yah Satellite Communication Company, which provides cutting-edge services and support to 60 percent of the African population and more than 95 percent of Brazil’s; KhalifaSat, the first satellite built by a brilliant team of Emirati engineers at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), is dedicated to providing high-resolution imagery for use in urban planning, environmental monitoring, as well as aiding relief efforts during natural or man-made disasters.

We have gained further expertise in the industry through our international collaborations, which promote knowledge transfer and the exchange of experience. Over 30 bilateral agreements with other countries space agencies and institutions have been signed. When it comes to the US, we are very proud to have a strong relationship with NASA. In 2016 the UAESA signed a framework agreement with NASA which enables collaboration on multiple levels including Human Space Flight. Other agreements with the US include an MOU with the FAA, and a Space Situational Awareness Agreement with STRATCOM. There are also some very strong relations we enjoy with US industry, such as our collaboration with Boeing to build the Thuraya satellites, Northrop Grumman (Orbital ATK) who we worked with to build Al Yah 3 for YAHSAT, and our work with Lockheed Martin on a space fundamentals training program for engineers who support the development of human capital. Furthermore there are several investments by UAE entities in the US Space sector most notably an equity stake in Virgin Galactic by a UAE investment vehicle.

In order to further develop our efforts in the region and enhance the Arab countries’ scientific efforts in the global space sector, we are also collaborating with key Arab countries, under the umbrella of the Arab Space Cooperation Group. The initiative was launched in the UAE and comprises 14 Arab countries, with the objective of consolidating the strengths and capabilities of the Arab World. We were delighted to announce a project as part of this collaboration, Satellite 813, which serves as a great addition to the UAE and the region’s list of achievements.

We are proud of all of the satellites that we have manufactured in a short period, which bring about massive benefits through their operation. Another major milestone that we look forward to accomplish in this historic year is launching Emirates Mars Mission’s “Hope” Probe. We have made rapid progress in developing this project, through collaborating with key local and global space entities. The probe will help us study the atmosphere and climate of Mars and understand the harsh conditions, enabling us to develop new technologies to combat resource scarcity and improve efficiency and sustainability of our planet. A key partner in the development of the scientific objectives as well as instruments for the spacecraft has been the University of Colorado in Boulder and specifically their Laboratory of Advanced Science and Physics.

Aside from our focus on developing projects and satellites that serve a variety of purposes, the UAE’S Space Policy, Strategy, recently issued Law and Regulatory Framework also includes a National Space Investment Promotion Plan, encouraging the growth of a national and regional commercial space industry.

Our National Space Strategy aims to provide competitive and world-class space services; enhance our local human capabilities; manufacture advanced space technologies; launch inspiring space missions; forge effective partnerships; and develop a future-proof supportive legislative environment and infrastructure across the sector. Moreover, our National Space Investment Promotion Plan aims to make the UAE a major regional and global hub for space activities by building a competitive national economy.

The UAE has also recently launched our Space Law, which will complement our National Space Strategy, National Space Policy, and National Space Investment Promotion Plan, providing the UAE’s space sector with a comprehensive regulatory framework, similar to any leading country in the sector.

Our ambition is limitless, and we will always be in pursuit of exploring space and joining forces with like-minded countries, agencies, and companies, and contribute to the benefit of humanity.