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Saudi Space Commission Casts Wide Net For Space Cooperation

H.M. King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Photograph courtesy of SPA.

The Saudi Space Commission (SSC) is casting a wide net in its aim to create space cooperation arrangements with friendly countries around the world, with agreements or discussions underway with countries such as Greece, Kuwait, Brazil, Australia, and France.

On 5 February 2020, the acting CEO of the Saudi Space Commission Dr. Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that commits each side to space and satellite applications cooperation with Kostas Fragogiannis, the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister. ArabSat, the pan-Arab commercial satellite communications consortium, is headquartered in Riyadh and is the owner of the Greek-Cypriot commercial satellite communications provider Hellas Sat.

In addition to this, the Chairman of the Saudi Space Commission, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has held a series of discussions over the past few months with representatives of the Australian, Brazilian, Egyptian, French, Kazakh, and Kuwaiti governments regarding space cooperation.

This flurry of activity over the past three months follows the already established space cooperation framework between Saudi Arabia and its neighbour the United Arab Emirates, under the auspices of the Saudi-Emirates Coordination Council, and the Declaration of Intent (DoI) signed with Russia during a state visit to Riyadh in October 2019 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The DoI with Russia aims to consolidate each country’s bilateral efforts in cooperating on satellite positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services through Russia’s GLONASS global navigation satellite service (GNSS), and on human spaceflight opportunities for Saudi Arabia have one of its citizens trained and launched by Russia to the International Space Station (ISS).

Whether the Saudi-Russian DoI is implemented, however, has been thrown into doubt since Russia refused on 6 March 2020 to join the Saudi-dominated Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in cutting oil production to bolster oil prices in order to mitigate economic strains caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Saudi Space Commission’s diplomatic activities also come as the organisation has reportedly completed its policy and strategy review that has been endorsed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (who is also the father of Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz).

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