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Challenges and Opportunities for a Kuwaiti Space Programme, Part I

The skyline of Kuwait City, Kuwait. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.
The skyline of Kuwait City, Kuwait. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.

As Kuwait considers its space future, SpaceWatch Middle East contributor Ghanim Alotaibi, a Kuwaiti engineer and Space Generation Advisory Council member, examines some of the challenges Kuwaiti leaders will have to address in the first of a series of articles that will be published in the coming weeks.

Introduction

Two years ago, a committee was formed by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science (KFAS) to investigate the idea of establishing a space program in Kuwait. The committee concluded its work by recommending the establishment of a space programme, and last July, another committee led by the Kuwaiti General Authority of Communication was formed to investigate the feasibility of owning a satellite.

I am personally a fan of establishing a space programme in Kuwait. In February 2009, along with my colleague Maryam Aljoan, we both addressed the importance of establishing a space programme in Kuwait during the meeting of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), as seen from the youth perspective in Kuwait. But as I see that the government in Kuwait is serious, and the space sector is already booming in the Middle East region, I would like to go a step further beyond in trying to convince the public and the government in Kuwait to establish a space programme. In this and subsequent articles in the coming weeks, I should like to discuss the unique challenges that faces Kuwait in particular – as every country has its own unique challenges. I have identified four unique challenges that Kuwait should overcome when establishing a space programme – Kuwaitisation; increasing Kuwaiti scientific contributions to the international science community; harmonising Kuwait’s space programme with global space science and exploration goals; and creating a commercially viable space commercial sector in Kuwait. As a Kuwaiti, I think the Kuwaiti Space Programme will not only be exciting to me once those challenges are solved or taken seriously into account before starting Kuwait’s involvement in the space sector.

Kuwaiti involvement

Obviously, when we talk about a space programme in Kuwait it is natural to assume that Kuwaitis are supposed to be at the core of the programme. But modern Kuwait has a different experience. For example, the oil sector in Kuwait since the first oil shipment in 1946 until today is heavily dependent on foreign experts, either foreign contractors or foreigners who work directly for Kuwaiti oil companies. In fact, the core technical know-how of the Kuwaiti oil sector nowadays is dominated by non-Kuwaitis. There are Kuwaitis in the field who have gained some technical experience, but never to the point that would be appropriate for Kuwait’s position as a major oil producer in the world. Kuwaiti workers in the oil field are mainly concentrated in administrative roles and simple technical jobs, while the core know-how jobs related to engineering and science are dominated by foreigners.

I worked for Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) for years, and I can say from my personal experience that the overall system in KOC never encouraged knowledge transfer between the foreign experts and the Kuwaiti workers in the field. I can also see a very similar situation in different sectors. The Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research, private engineering consultation offices for construction, different ministries in many other sectors share the same challenge as the oil sector. In fact, Kuwaitisation has always been an issue in the mainstream media and this challenge has been under a spotlight for quite a long time, but unfortunately, no effective solution yet.

A Kuwaiti space programme should overcome this challenge. As a young space enthusiast from Kuwait, I would like to see the space sector in Kuwait fully dominated by Kuwaitis. Foreign expertise is undoubtedly very important, and should be welcomed to work in a Kuwaiti space programme, so what I mean by fully dominated by Kuwaitis has nothing to do with being unfriendly to foreign experts, but rather that Kuwaitis be heavily involved with deep engineering and scientific tasks rather than just administrators or technicians

How to overcome the above challenge?

I think there are two keys to solving the above challenge, and I believe the decision-makers in Kuwait, once they seriously take the challenge into account, will even find a better way. The two keys are simply to design a qualifying curricula course for Kuwaitis who want to be involved in the space field and provide Kuwaitis with the access to actually be involved in engineering and scientific tasks.

From the very early establishment of the space programme, Kuwaitis should be involved in a high quality educational programme with measurable outcomes. The programme should seriously aim to provide Kuwaitis with the necessary know-how in engineering and scientific tasks within a very specific time frame. Along with the educational programme, Kuwaitis should get their ‘hands dirty’ by actually working on real projects or subprojects, and learn from making mistakes, and gain the skills and experience from the very early design process to the final end product. For example, Kuwaitis could conduct the design of a sensor to detect water moisture in the sand, along with data handling and processing. This sensor can be important for detecting water in the desert of Kuwait as well as for a mission to Mars. Indeed, foreign experience is very necessary when designing the first sensor, but Kuwaiti experts should then fully work on the second sensor.

Conclusion

The path that should be taken to solve this challenge is indeed long and difficult. It will require long and tiring meetings and a huge effort. But what is important here in this article is that Kuwait recognizes the challenge. From my experience, I am very confident with the way that decision-makers solve problems in Kuwait when they want to solve it. Yet the first step towards the solution is to recognize the challenge.

Ghanim Alotaibi graduated as a mechanical engineer from Kuwait University in 2009. He then started working for Kuwait Oil Company for the next six years. As well as working at KOC, Ghanim obtained an astronomy degree from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. Ghanim is currently doing his Master’s thesis on Photovoltaics at the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg, Germany.

Since being an undergraduate student, Ghanim has been an active space enthusiast. In 2009, Ghanim presented a paper reflecting a young perspective on establishing a space programme in Kuwait at the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). Ghanim is also a member at the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) and is involved in some space projects.

Original published at: http://spacewatchme.com/2016/09/challenges-opportunities-kuwaiti-space-programme-part/

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