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UAE National Space Policy: An initial assessment

As part of the new partnership between SpaceWatch Middle East and The Précis, a quarterly space law and policy report produced by Space Law & Policy Solutions, run by the prominent space lawyer and friend of SpaceWatch Middle East, Michael J. Listner. Reproduced here is Michael’s commentary on the recently completed UAE National Space Policy. Details of how to subscribe to The Précis are provided at the end of this commentary.

The UAE Council of Ministers adopted UAE’s much-anticipated National the-precis-swme-website-photo
Space Policy on September 4, 2016. The UAE National Space Policy has been portrayed as the most important element of the UAE’s strategy to develop its space sector. The text of the policy has not been made public, which makes an analysis cumbersome, but some of the details have been released via press releases and media to include:

  • A preamble that refers to the historical link of the UAE with space and the astronomy and navigation by its people; it also makes references to the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who encouraged Emiratis to preserve that knowledge;
  • A call for strengthening cooperation between the government and the private sector on a local level, and establishing mutually beneficial international partnerships that adhere to international laws and treaties;
  • Conducting space missions that will increase scientific knowledge;
  • Developing technologies and national capabilities and driving innovation;
  • Promoting a stable and sustainable space environment that supports commercial and government space activities; and
  • Follow-up measures to ensure the space policy’s successful implementation.

The UAE space policy is couched as a national space policy, but unlike a national space policy it focuses specifically on a civil space program and a commercial space program. The tenets of the policy is purported to support national security space activities, but it unclear how it supports it nor does it elaborate whether national security interests were taken into consideration when it was drafted. This is anomalous as the UAE is set to receive two Falcon Eye photo-reconnaissance satellites, which will give the UAE significant remote sensing and intelligence-gathering capabilities.[1] Considering this future capability, it is unusual its National Space Policy would not have included the defense sector.

An ancillary part of the UAE National Space Policy is a domestic space law, which is apparently still being developed. The domestic space law purportedly addresses both the civil space sector and creates a private interest in commercial space activities, which would fit together with the UAE’s goal of becoming a regional hub of space activities. Little or no information is available on the progress of the law, but it supposedly contains a provision that would support a legal and regulatory regime for future asteroid mining activities similar to the “space resource” law enacted into U.S. law as 51 U.S.C. § 51303 on November 25, 2015. If this is accurate, it would not be surprising as the consultant working on the law was instrumental in creating and promoting the narrative that led to the U.S. “space resource” law. The UAE would also include “space resources” in its domestic space law as a hedge for the law’s acceptance as customary international law, which would allow the UAE to position itself as a legal and economic epicenter for facilitating the acquisition of “space resources” and to act as an economic exchange for their sale.[2]

Whether the UAE will revisit its National Space Policy to include the national security space sector is unknown. It is more likely the UAE will commit to the Policy as is, and the defense sector will be left to its own devices to develop its own space policy.

A press release from the UAE Space Agency regarding the National Space Policy can be downloaded for the Agency’s website {best results by copying hyperlink and pasting in a web browser}:

[1] Airbus is constructing the two Falcon Eye satellites, but the optics are built by the U.S., which subjects them to ITAR restrictions. This is relevant because the UAE entered into a memorandum of understanding for space cooperation with China at the end of 2015, which reportedly includes sharing of remote-sensing data. The agreement is concerning even more so because it was signed not by the Director of the UAE Space Agency, H.E. Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, but by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Depending on the nature of the remote-sensing agreement, ITAR restrictions could be triggered. Christopher Stone elaborates on this concern in his blog Real Space Strategy:

[2] Luxembourg has also embraced the concept of “space resources” and committed significant financial resources to the concept, and like the UAE may be positioning itself to become an economic exchange for “space resources” harvested by private companies.

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