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Space Mining an Opportunity for Middle East Oil Powers – Analyst

The Vesta asteroid. Photograph courtesy of NASA.

Middle Eastern oil powers are well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by exploiting space resources such as water and preciois metal, according to an energy industry analyst based in Singapore.

According to Bloomberg, Tom James, a partner with Singapore-based commodities and energy consultancy Navitas Resources, says that countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could position themselves to become global leaders in exploiting space resources found on asteroids, the Moon, and on planets in the Solar System. With their long-standing experience and expertise in efficiently extracting resources such as oil and gas from the ground and seas on Earth, coupled with their nascent space programmes, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi could combine experience and new space technologies and apply them to space.

“Middle East investment in space is growing as it works to shift from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy.” James told Bloomberg in an interview in Singapore.

In early April, Goldman Sachs issued a research note to investors authored by Noah Poponak that argued, “Space mining is still a long way from commercial viability, but it has the potential to further ease access to space. Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint.”

It is well understood by scientists and entrepreneurs that the Solar System, to include its moons, asteroids, and other celestial bodies, is replete with resources such as water, minerals, precious metals, and possibly other commodities. For a number of entrepreneurs and thinkers, these resources could provide the ingredients for a thriving economy in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

Companies such as U.S.-based Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries Inc. are working on hardware to identify asteroids in the Solar System that could be mined and then traded on the market. Advances in space technologies, as well as lowering costs of space launch, are making these commercial ambitions increasingly possible.

Similarly, a number of companies from the United States, Europe, Israel, and India, are engaged in developing the means to commercially exploit the resources of the Moon.

Only a few years ago analysts were deeply skeptical of these commercial ventures, but technological advances coupled with detailed and plausible business proposals from these companies has encouraged more positive attention from the markets, even though considerable technical and economic challenges remain in fulfilling these ambitions.

This said, it is possible for regional space players such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE to bring their oil and gas expertise into the fold of their growing space programmes. Furthermore, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, could leverage their growing international space partnerships with countries such as China, Europe, India, Russia, and the United States to gain greater technological expertise to become proficient in exploiting space resources. Regional trade and financial hubs, such as Dubai, could also benefit from regional exploitation of space resources.

According to Tom James, the Middle East is also geographically well-situated to host space launch facilities to access these space resources, given the region’s relatively close proximity to the Earth’s equator. In space launch, being near to the equator provides a natural boost to a launch vehicle due to the Earth’s spin on its axis.

Speaking to Bloomberg, James said, “The Middle East builds the tallest buildings, the biggest shopping complexes. Certainly they’re having a big impact on the space and satellite industries as well.”

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