The UAE Space Agency and US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Colorado Springs, United States, on Monday, 11 April 2016, committing both the UAE and the United States to share space situational awareness (SSA) data.
Dr. Khalifa Al Romaithi, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, and Major General Clinton E. Crosier, U.S. Air Force, Director of Plans and Policy at US STRATCOM, signed the MoU at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs on the sidelines of the Space Foundation’s 32nd National Space Symposium.
The MoU allows for the exchange of space situational awareness data between the two countries. Space situational awareness, according to the Space Foundation, “refers to the ability to view, understand and predict the physical location of natural and manmade objects in orbit around the Earth, with the objective of avoiding collisions.”
SSA is done through ground- and space-based telescopes and radars that scan the Earth’s orbits detecting, tracking, and cataloguing objects such as operating and defunct satellites, as well as space debris.
The Commander of USSTRATCOM, Admiral Cecil D. Haney, U.S. Navy, said, “We must be able to maintain situational awareness, act where necessary, and as stated in the [US] 2010 Space Policy, preserve the space environment.”
Admiral Haney went on to say, “Recognizing an evolving and diverse space environment — and a need to preserve access in space — it is imperative we work with and leverage our key allies and partners like the United Arab Emirates to increase situational awareness in space.”
The United States, and in particular the US military, operates the largest and most capable SSA network that includes radars and telescopes across the US and in space, as well as in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom. Other countries such as France and Russia also have SSA capabilities, though much more limited in scope compared to the United States.
Yet despite being the most capable provider of SSA, the United States is still unable to continuously track objects in space because of large geographical gaps in its global coverage. The MoU with the UAE may, in time, help fill this gap in coverage.
To date, the UAE does not possess any dedicated SSA capabilities, so it is likely that the MoU covers the one-way exchange of data from USSTRATCOM to the UAE Space Agency in order to help the latter better avoid collisions in space between its satellites and other satellites and space debris.
Speaking about the importance of the MoU with USSTRATCOM, Dr. Al Romaithi said, “We are proud to sign this important agreement that further solidifies the bilateral UAE and U.S. space relationship and will contribute to the protection of important assets of both countries in orbit.”
Major General Crosier of USSTRATCOM said, “This is a really important initiative between our two governments. Not only does it represent a joint commitment to space safety and security, but it also represents yet another mission area in which the United States and United Arab Emirates are forging an ever stronger partnership.”
The UAE is the eleventh country after the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea, France, Canada, Italy, Japan, Israel, Spain, Germany and Australia to sign an SSA data sharing agreement with USSTRATCOM. Similarly, USSTRATCOM has SSA data sharing agreements with several international organizations and over 50 satellite companies.
For the UAE the agreement not only allows it access to important data needed to protect its satellites from colliding with other objects in space, it also helps solidify its strategic relationship with the United States. In this regard, the UAE is the first, and at present, the only Arab country to have this kind of relationship with the world’s most capable SSA data provider.
For USSTRATCOM, the MoU with the UAE cements its position as the leading SSA data provider that is attracting more and more international and commercial partners.
Further, for both the UAE and the United States this agreement signifies the intent of both countries to cooperate on a range of space issues in the coming years.