UAE launches national space agency strategy

Friday 05/06/2015
Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of the UAE Mars Mission, speaks during a ceremony to unveil the mission in Dubai.

Abu Dhabi - The United Arab Emirates has laid out a strategic framework for a newly created space agency that aims to integrate various arms of the Gulf federation’s bur­geoning space industry.

The seven-state federation, per­haps best known for its oil wealth and extravagant attractions like Dubai’s Palm-shaped islands and record-breaking Burj Khalifa sky­scraper, is fast establishing itself as the Arab world’s leader in the space sector.

The UAE Space Agency, created in 2014 by presidential decree, aims to regulate and support the country’s space sector, which in­cludes Earth-orbiting satellite pro­grammes and plans for a mission to Mars in 2020.

Agency Chairman Khalifa Mo­hammed Thani al-Rumaithi said the space industry will help di­versify the country’s economy and create highly skilled jobs for a growing youth population.

“The United Arab Emirates is seeking to confirm its status as a space-faring nation in which the industry plays a key role in sus­tainable economic development,” he said at a May 25th event rolling out the federal body in Abu Dhabi. The event featured models of Emi­rati satellites and waiters serving space-themed canapés, including hummus in metal squeeze tubes.

Space technology is one of sev­eral high-tech industries the OPEC member is championing as a way to create jobs and diversify an econo­my heavily dependent on oil.

Thuraya, an Emirates-based sat­ellite phone operator, was respon­sible for the country’s first com­mercial satellite, launched in 2000.

The Emirates’ first government-backed satellite, an Earth-observa­tion satellite known as DubaiSat-1, blasted into orbit atop a Russian rocket in 2009. It and the follow-up DubaiSat-2 were collaborations between Emirati engineers and a South Korean satellite firm.

Abu Dhabi’s Al Yah Satellite Communications Company, better known as Yahsat, hopes to put its third satellite into orbit in 2016. Its first communications satellite was launched aboard an Arianespace rocket in 2011.

The announcement comes less than three weeks after the Dubai-based team behind a 2020 mission to Mars announced that its probe will orbit the planet, studying its atmosphere, including changes over time and how surface features such as volcanoes, deserts and can­yons affect it.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum said earlier in May that he hoped that probe, named “Hope”, would provide in­spiration for the Arab world. It is the first Mars mission attempted by an Arab country.

Some 75 Emirati engineers are working on the Mars project and of­ficials say they want to double that number by 2020.

Aabar Investments, which is backed by the Abu Dhabi govern­ment, is a key investor in Richard Branson’s space tourism company, Virgin Galactic.

It agreed to pump $280 million into the space start-up in 2009 in exchange for one-third of the com­pany. It raised its stake to 38% af­ter agreeing to additional funding for the development of a satellite launch programme. Its initial deal called for the development of a spaceport in Abu Dhabi.

Virgin Galactic’s plans are uncer­tain after its experimental rocket ship, SpaceShipTwo, broke apart in flight over California’s Mojave De­sert last October.