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Calls Grow for the Creation of a Kuwaiti Space Agency

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

The case for the creation of a Kuwaiti space agency is growing with prominent Kuwaiti scientists advocating that the Gulf kingdom consider the merits of establishing a formal entity to deal with space issues.

Quoted in the English-language newspaper Kuwait Times, scientist Dr. Hala Al-Jassar, an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at Kuwait University, said that Kuwait has all of the necessary requirements and resources – to include human capital – needed to create a Kuwaiti national space agency.

“We have the budget, the talents, the expertize, and outstanding graduates from the best universities,” she told the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).

Dr. Jassar said that clear leadership is required from the Kuwaiti government to establish a space agency, though she also points out that even without a national entity for space policy and programmes, Kuwaiti universities are already doing a lot in space. For example, Kuwait University and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science are both part of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) initiative run by the U.S. space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

SMAP provides measurements of land surface soil moisture and freeze-thaw states, and is a critical tool in monitoring water resources – an important issue for the desert kingdom of Kuwait. Both Kuwait University and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science are the only Arab partner in the SMAP initiative, and are providing monthly data to it.

Dr. Jassar also points out that the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) is cooperating with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

“When we start a space program, we will not be starting from scratch,” Dr. Jassar is quoted as saying.

Dr. Bassam A. Al-Feeli, a Programme Manager at the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science, says that a Kuwaiti space agency will, “bring people together to create a critical mass…enough people to push it forward.”

Dr. Feeli stressed that the Kuwaiti government needs to make space a “national priority,” and that only the government can provide an official space entity with a sense of national and policy purpose. Dr. Feeli points out that given other national priorities in Kuwait, the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science finds it difficult to fund space research without a centralised space agency.

Apart from the creation of a Kuwaiti space agency, Dr. Feeli believes that a space education programme for young Kuwaitis is also essential if Kuwait is to effectively compete in space.

The Gulf region is becoming a global hub for space activities, with active space agencies in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar is also active in space through its Es’hailSat commercial communications satellite company, and both Bahrain and Oman are also exploring options on how to protect and advance their interests in space. In that context, it is neither surprising or unusual for Kuwait to be doing the same.

Space activities not only help countries garner international prestige, but also advance scientific and technical know-how, help diversify economies, and can contribute to national security and regional stability.

SpaceWatch Middle East contributor Ghanim Al-Otaibi, who has written on the need for a Kuwaiti space agency in these pages, said, “Dr. Hala Al-Jassar was a supporter of me since I was an undergraduate student. If a space programme will be established in Kuwait soon, I hope this program will be an ambitious one. I also hope that Kuwaiti youth will take part in formulating the vision of it.”

Mr. Al-Otaibi will be examining further the need for a Kuwaiti space agency in the coming months for SpaceWatch Middle East.

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