The resumption of Kurdish oil exports hinges on achieving consensus between Baghdad and Ankara, but a lasting solution can only be cemented through a trilateral agreement that includes Erbil.
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On July 26, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre announced Sultan Al Neyadi would be the first Arab astronaut to join a six-month mission to the International Space Station. The plan was initially discussed in April between the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre and Axiom Space Inc., a leading human spaceflight and infrastructure company. This mission is one of an increasing number of Emirati initiatives in the space sector. The United Arab Emirates is turning to its space program to position itself as a hub for advanced technology, while also diversifying the economy away from oil and rekindling space culture among young Emiratis.
One Giant Leap
Despite the recent increase of attention toward the UAE’s space sector, substantial progress in the industry has been underway for some time. The United Arab Emirates Space Agency was established in July 2014. As part of broader economic diversification initiatives taking place across the region following the oil price crash of mid-2014, the UAE Space Agency had a mandate to develop, organize, and guide the UAE’s growing space sector, while also supporting sustainable development and enhancing the country’s position as a global aerospace player.
To support this strategy, the UAE invested $5.4 billion in space technology in January 2015. In April 2017, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, and Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, then Abu Dhabi crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, launched the National Space Program. According to the program, its main purpose is to prepare and train Emiratis specializing in space sciences. Its initiatives include the 2117 Mars Program, which aims to set up the first human settlement on Mars, the Arab Space Discovery Program, and plans to launch a UAE satellite manufacturing complex.
The UAE aims to strengthen partnerships with the top space agencies around the world. On October 4, 2018, the UAE Space Agency signed an Implementing Arrangement for cooperation in space exploration and human spaceflight with NASA. This agreement strengthened the bilateral relationship between the UAE Space Agency and NASA, creating opportunities for collaboration in space research, exploration, and development. On October 30, 2018, the UAE Space Agency launched the KhalifaSat Earth Observation imaging satellite from the Japanese Tanegashima Space Center on an island off the southern tip of Japan. According to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, the KhalifaSat was the first satellite designed, built, and tested entirely by Emirati scientists and engineers.
In late 2019, the UAE, which did not have astronauts just a few years before, sent its first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansoori, to the International Space Station. Mansoori spent his short time in orbit performing a series of experiments and conducting a tour of the space station in Arabic. In October 2020, the UAE signed the Artemis Accords – an agreement among NASA and several partner countries establishing a set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among the countries participating in NASA’s lunar exploration initiative. By signing the accords, the UAE committed to not only develop a national space agency but to do so alongside the international space community, providing new opportunities for collaboration. In April 2021, Nora Matrooshi, the first Arab woman astronaut, was selected from the UAE Astronaut Program in April 2021 to train with NASA for two years.
In February 2021, in its first excursion into deep space, the UAE launched the spacecraft Hope, which successfully entered the Martian orbit, making the UAE the fifth country to do so. The Hope spacecraft was built in cooperation with the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The UAE worked with U.S. companies for key components and technologies on the Hope Probe. Cooperation between the United States and the UAE continued into the following year, supported by the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council, which identified potential growth for the bilateral relationship, particularly in the space sector.
Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, the UAE has also partnered with Israel. The UAE and Israel signed an agreement in October 2021 to collaborate on the Beresheet 2 moon mission. As part of the agreement, the two countries will cooperate on data-based development and research from the Israeli-French satellite Venus, while Emirati and Israeli students will work together on a new satellite tracking the moon.
In addition to building satellites and spacecrafts, the UAE has demonstrated support for global innovation in space technology. In October 2021, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre launched the Space Ventures initiative, an ecosystem in the space sector for startups from around the world. It aims to enable businesses to collaborate on long-term projects, gain access to technology and support, and receive aid in communicating with international regulatory agencies to facilitate sustainable, long-term growth. In addition to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre initiative, Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem, has chosen several space tech companies among the 16 startups in its 2021 cohort. Hub71 will link the selected space tech companies to programs meant to support their growth and development. These two projects, and their focus on startups in the private sector, are part of the UAE’s broader strategy encouraging corporate contribution to space tech to support the space economy.
In July, the UAE established an $817 million fund to support its space sector, including an initiative to develop radar satellites. The UAE announced plans to be the first Arab country to develop a constellation of Synthetic Aperture Radar Satellites. The satellites will be built through partnerships between the public and private sectors together with international firms. The fund also aims to support the establishment of national companies in the space sector and boost national strategic and research projects, while also seeking to encourage global partnerships to establish themselves in the UAE, providing incentives to the partnerships through the UAE Space Agency’s Space Economic Zones Program.
While encouraging global partnerships and investments, the UAE is also trying to rekindle cultural interest in outer space. Although astronomy itself is deeply rooted in Arab culture, a more “modern-day” space culture is developing among young Emiratis. As the UAE has developed its space sector, there have been more Emiratis pursuing astrophotography as well as art and education in space-related studies. For example, Saeed Al Emadi, a member of Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre’s communication team, has achieved internet fame as the artist who created Suhail, a stuffed cartoon-based character who flew into space with Mansoori in 2019. There has also been an increase in participation in astronomy groups and stargazing as well – a leisure activity that had faded from mainstream culture.
In September 2021, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre launched the Emirates Space Art Program in collaboration with Jsoor, a private social enterprise. The program aims to document the UAE’s milestones in the space sector through art. In February, Selenian, a UAE-based company that specializes in the curation of art in space, announced that it will carry an original piece of art to the moon, with the help of NASA, Spacebit, and Astrobotic. The artwork itself, “We Rise Together, by Moonlight,” was created by Sacha Jafri, a Dubai-based artist, and is intended to stay on the moon. While Emirati space culture is nowhere near as established as U.S. and Russian space culture, which developed in the 1960s with the first space explorations, it has been growing in popularity over the past decade.
While there are skeptics who question whether the space program will be able to create a generation of Emirati space engineers and aerospace personnel, the growing space culture has spread into academia and is encouraging students to pursue an education in the field of aerospace, which has grown in size and funding as a result. Universities and institutes have since been creating new curriculums to help students learn about and establish careers in the space industry. In addition, the UAE Space Agency started the UAE Mini-Satellite Challenge – a competition in which university students submit proposals for design experiments that can solve real-life space exploration problems. The competition aims to foster critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration among Emirati youth to advance engineering research and development, while also sparking students’ interest in space engineering.
Gulf States Reach for the Stars
Following up on its successful launch of the Hope spacecraft into the Martian orbit, the UAE also plans to send an unmanned spaceship to the moon in 2024. There have also been suggestions of branching into space tourism, exploring Venus by 2028, and landing on an asteroid, making it the fourth country to do so if successful. These plans are part of the UAE’s “Projects of the 50.”
Although considered the most ambitious space program in the Middle East, the UAE is not the only country in the region with space initiatives. Bahrain launched its first satellite into orbit in February, and Oman plans to do the same by the end of the year. Qatar, in 2010, launched an Exoplanet Survey – a research project led by the Qatar National Research Fund, the Qatar Foundation, and Hamad Bin Khalifa University to find planets outside the solar system. And Saudi Arabia recently announced its 10-year space plan.
Although still relative newcomers to the space field, Emirati leaders hope the aerospace sector might become another avenue through which they can position the country as a hub for advanced technology, while also diversifying the economy away from oil. These remain ambitious goals at this point, notwithstanding impressive progress. Besides the aspirations to create this new technology hub and enhance the country’s longer-term economic diversification, there are hopes to advance the country’s global position, both diplomatically and culturally.
AGSIW's ninth annual Petro Diplomacy conference examined how the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are managing the energy transition and expectations for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai beginning in November.
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