UAE Space Agency Organizes Workshops to Develop National Response Mechanism for Falling Space Debris

20 February 2018

The UAE Space Agency has organized a specialized workshop, with various stakeholders within the national space sector, to develop a joint response mechanism dedicated to tackling the challenges posed by the re-entry of space debris. The third in a series of workshops on the subject, it is in line with the Agency's aims to regulate the country’s space sector and unify the sector’s response to challenges.

The workshop was attended by representatives from the UAE Space Agency, the Ministries of Defense and Interior, the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA), the National Media Council (NMC), Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), the International Astronomical Center (IAC) in Abu Dhabi and other specialized agencies. During the workshop attendees discussed and fleshed out the next steps involved in developing a new response mechanism, including reporting and information exchange systems to monitor the falling of space objects.

The workshop examined the planned re-entry of China's Tiangong-1 Space Laboratory in mid-March, which is expected to fall between latitudes 43 degrees north and south, an area encompassing the Arabian region. A joint campaign will be organized to monitor the event, which will lead to the disintegration and evaporation of the laboratory upon re-entry as a result of friction with the Earth’s atmosphere.

The uncontrollable fall will pose no danger to the planet and will not impact any populated areas. Should any debris reach the ground, it will be spread across the sea and not pose any risk to lives or structures. 

The UAE recently witnessed the fall of a number of pieces of space debris from the remnants of old satellites, missiles and launch vehicles, which resulted in rumors and misleading news that provoked panic among the public. Different interpretations of the events by a number of official and non-official sources complicated matters. This motivated the Agency to call upon stakeholders to take part in developing an integrated response mechanism.

Commenting on the workshops, H.E. Dr. Mohamed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency, said: "We expect space debris to continue to fall in our region, as a result of increased space activity by various states. However, the risk of actual damage to property or injury to living things is minimal.”

"By means of mutual activities and workshops with fellow entities, the UAE Space Agency aims to develop an integrated response mechanism to unify the efforts of various stakeholders in tackling future incidents of this nature. Such a mechanism will include having a spokesperson dedicated to informing the public, as well as developing plans to protect residents and infrastructure in cases where debris is expected to fall in populated areas,” he added.

The UAE has extensive capabilities when it comes to monitoring and determining the coordinates of space objects, meteors and meteorites. The UAE Meteor Monitoring and Filming Network, which was launched two years ago to support scientific research efforts, is designed specifically to track space objects and debris. The network provides reports and studies on meteor traffic over the UAE.

The network consists of three different stations distributed throughout the UAE to record astronomical phenomena in the sky. Each station has astronomical cameras directed towards the sky that automatically start recording once a meteor is detected, which may be part of a shower or a piece of space debris.  Once the meteor is detected by more than one station, its path is calculated so that its source can be determined.

Three years ago, the International Astronomical Center (IAC) set up an international program involving enthusiasts from around the world to monitor the fall of satellites to Earth. Four experts, including the IAC Director, a specialist from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on behalf of the United States and two other specialist experts from Canada, supervise the program.