Monday, May 25, 2015

United Arab Emirates Launches National Space Agency Strategy

Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, at the launch of the agency in Abu Dhabi. Credit: Delores Johnson / The National

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday 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 details of the strategic plan were annoinced by Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency. The strategy includes issuing a national space policy, training Emirati men and women in the space sector and establishing a Dh100 million Space Research Centre in Al Ain next year. The center will act as an incubator for space research, development and innovation at the federal level.

The UAE Space Agency, created last year by presidential decree, aims to regulate and support the industry, which includes existing Earth-orbiting satellite programs and plans for a mission to Mars in 2020.

“We try to position the UAE as a regional leader in space, and hope in the future it will be part of the big space players,” Al Ahbabi said.

The Middle East’s first Space Research Centre will be established in Al Ain over the next five years.

The project will act as an incubator for space research, development and innovation at the federal level. It is the result of a strategic partnership between the agency, UAE University and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, represented by the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Fund.

The agency is also working on setting up a number of bodies and working groups to focus on the peaceful and optimal use of space.

The UAE’s space sector includes a direct investment of more than Dh20 billion, with three major space players providing space services to the UAE, among others, thanks to a third satellite covering South America expected to launch in 2017.

“We aligned our strategic objectives with what we already have and how the world is functioning in terms of global space because we are part of that,” Al Ahbabi said.

“We were, of course, influenced by the Mars mission. We think it is a great opportunity and project for us and our space sector to even further develop because the awareness, interest and aspiration of this project is a great vehicle for us to develop our capabilities.”

He said the agency made it a priority to ensure the Mars mission remains on track, on time and on budget while meeting the Government’s objectives.

On Monday, the country’s first academic space program was also launched. This year, 20 students will be selected to travel, overseas and in the UAE, in partnership with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the ICT Fund.

“The scholarship programme, to be established this year, will send 15 students abroad, 10 undergraduates and five master’s in space, and we will sponsor five to 10 local students within the UAE,” Dr Al Ahbabi said.

Space technology is one of several high-tech industries the OPEC member is championing as a way to broaden an economy still 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 launched from Kazakhstan in 2009. It and the follow-up DubaiSat-2 were collaborations between Emirati engineers and a South Korean satellite firm.

Credit: thenational.aeAP

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