In several countries across the Middle East region, different programs are being launched to boost the space industry. The new projects taken up by the space agencies and various new start-ups with flow of investments budding in the industry, are examples of the conspicuous efforts being made by several countries to boost the growth of the industry. These countries include Israel, Iran, Iraq, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, among others.
In addition, multiple initiatives have been taken by countries, including the moon exploration program carried out by Israel, Mars exploration plan of UAE, and launch of advanced satellite for communications by Saudi Arabia. Iran and Iraq are also undertaking satellite launches, which are being conducted to strengthen their respective military and defense.
Here is a take from our analyst on the recent developments occurring in the Middle East countries in the space industry and on how the developments are likely to shape the industry in future.
How is the present investment scenario in the UAE space industry?
UAE’s space agency announced the “National Plan for the Promotion of Space Investment” in the second week of January 2020 to boost the investment in the industry and showcase the country as a rising space power. The projects that are expected to be taken up with the help of these investments range from Mars mission to the launch of the country’s first astronaut. The target is to attract foreign investments along with encouraging the country’s own investment. For UAE, the Mars mission has gained focus with the UAE building a research center, named Mars Science City, dedicated to it. Further, it is the aim of UAE to be the first Arab nation to send a spacecraft on Mars by 2021.
In addition, the country aims to provide a conducive environment so as to ensure that all the start-ups and investors should feel welcomed in the business market. Further, to promote its space program, UAE established a partnership with organizations that are operating in the space industry to turn the Mars exploration and human spaceflight into a reality. The UAE space agency has also collaborated with other organizations such as NASA, Roscosmos, and ESA, to train their astronauts . Also, Virgin Galactic, a private company in the space sector has received funding from Emirates to fly space tourists from Middle East.
Furthermore, the space agency of France signed a deal with UAESA in 2015, owing to which the companies in France are working on Emirati Satellites. Other countries are developing a joint hyperspectral imaging satellite for Earth observation for UAE.
Nanoracks is opening its office in UAE – how is it going to influence the space industry in that region?
Last year in September 2019, world’s leading provider of commercial access to space, Nanoracks announced the opening of its first office in UAE in Abu Dhabi’s Hub71. This expansion by NanoRacks highlights the commitment of the organization toward the growing space sector in the UAE. The company is expected to provide end-to-end customer service along with technical advice for the developing space industry in the Middle East, South East Asia, and Africa region.
The Nanoracks Company has been involved in several space related programs and has collaborated with several companies. The launch of MySat-1 CubeSat, is a joint program of Yahsat, Khalifa University of Science and Technology and Northrop Grumman and was successfully deployed with support from NanoRacks in 2019.
In addition, Nanoracks in 2019 collaborated with DreamUp, UAE Space Agency, and UAE University to launch the UAE palm tree growth experiments. All these collaborations and other key strategic developments are expected to boost the space industry in the Middle East in the coming future.
How is the collaboration between the UAE space agency and Krypto labs going to impact the space industry?
On 11 January 2020, the space agency of UAE announced a collaboration with Krypto Labs for the launch of NewSpace Innovation Program in the market. This program is launched under the National Space Investment Promotion Plan. The target of the program is to enhance the contribution of space industry in the overall economic growth of the UAE.. With the launch of this program, maximum growth of the space technology-based start-ups can be achieved in the UAE. The program further promotes that entrepreneurs, start-ups, and students must collaborate and share their path-breaking ideas at a platform. These ideas can then be transformed into commercially viable products and services.
How defense priorities are expected to advance developments for the Middle East, or the space industry of the Gulf states?
In the context of national prestige and economic development, modernization of space technology is emerging as a key component of the strategies formulated by the governments of UAE and Saudi Arabia. The space programs launched by these countries are also serving the requirements arising from security and military sector of the countries. These programs are also expected to help counter any negative actions taken by Iran with the help of space technology advancements.
The advancement in the satellite technology has paved way for wide-ranging surveillance capabilities and secured communications platform. The satellite launches by Saudi Arabia are the epitome of the same. One of the satellites designed by Saudi Arabia is SGS-1 and it was built by Lockheed Martin in December 2018. This satellite enables secure communication along with internet connectivity. The other two satellites, Sat 5a and Sat 5b, offer potential surveillance capabilities along with remote sensing.
UAE invested US$6 billion in space technology, as per the data published in 2018. The UAE and created a group known as Arab Space Cooperation Group (ASCG) in Dubai, during the Global Space Congress in March 2019. This group consists of 11 Arab countries and is created to ensure that these countries have a say in the space norms and policies, at the time of their formation and introduction.
Iran has been testing indigenous space launch vehicles that can help carry and place more payload in the orbit than what was possible previously. These test launches are being repeatedly condemned by the space experts as these are stated to be a cover for Iran’s ballistic missile program. Another development is the fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Iran’s belt. Recently, a terrorist organization, named Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also claimed to possess the largest fleet of drones in the region near Strait of Hormuz and conducted their military games, near that region. It is the same area where Iran has also strengthened its UAV bases over the past several years.
It has also been observed that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are increasingly acquiring and adopting anti-satellite jamming technology so as to interrupt the satellite link of drones, and to disable the drone navigation system which enables them to land and return to the launch point. In addition, this jamming system also has the potential to negate the benefit that Iran derives through its satellite with the help of asymmetrical tactics.