by Salem AlMarri, Deputy Director General, MBRSC and IAC 2021 LOC Chair
From pearl diving to the discovery of oil and gas to exploring space, the UAE has emerged as a force to be reckoned with all its endeavours. The exemplary vision of the nation’s forefathers has been shouldered by its citizens and has in turn catapulted the UAE to reinforce its ability to excel across all domains. As the country marches towards its Golden Jubilee this year, celebrating the past 50 years, it also looks towards a vision of growth, prosperity and unity for ‘the next 50.’
The UAE also has had one of the most efficient responses to the pandemic. From nationwide testing to sterilisation drive and now taking the title of one of the most vaccinated nation in the world, has not only helped curb the spread of COVID, but also allowed the UAE to become a healthier nation and the return of normalcy to everything from trade, tourism, events and day to day life.
It is only fitting that world class events like the Expo 2020 and the 72nd International Astronautical Congress has found its home in the city of Dubai. Both events are being held in the Middle East soil for the first time ever. While the Expo 2020 is a reflection of the cosmopolitan multi-national city that Dubai has transformed into, the hosting of the world’s premier space event speaks volumes about the extraordinary achievements that the UAE has garnered over its young history in the sector.
The UAE space journey
The efforts of a long list of pioneers have been instrumental in making the space industry one of the most prestigious fields worldwide. Developments in the field of space has not only given a wealth of knowledge about the earth, universe and far beyond, but it has also helped create inventions and technologies that have made human life easier. Understanding the positives of the space industry, the UAE too has as part of its diversification explored and established itself as a leader in the field in the Arab region.
The fascination for space in the UAE dates back to when the country was first formed, which incidentally coincided with the space race. Just a few years after the first lunar landing, the Apollo 17 mission’s American explorers met with the founding father of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed and presented a piece of Moon rock. A popular Time photograph shows Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt, explaining in detail to Sheikh Zayed about the shuttle and mission while he listened intently to them.
That meeting laid the foundation for what the UAE as a spacefaring country has achieved today. The country’s developments in the space sector include the setting up of its own space agency, launch of multiple partnerships, academic programmes, investments in space science research and exploration. The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has played an integral part in fuelling the UAE’s journey to the stars and beyond since its inception nearly a decade and a half back. From building the first satellite communication station in Jebel Ali to launching indigenously built satellites to sending the first Emirati astronaut into space and even sending the first Arab probe to Mars – the Centre has ticked off one goal after another.
MBRSC launched the DubaiSat-1, an earth observation satellite, back in 2009, with the participation of Emirati engineers and partnership with South Korea. The Centre began work on DubaiSat-2 soon after, which was manufactured and launched in a much shorter period, providing electro-optical earth images for various purposes. In 2018, the KhalifaSat was launched, which is one of the world’s most technologically advanced remote sensing observation satellites, built and designed completely in the UAE. In 2020, the UAE became the first Arab country to send an interplanetary probe to Mars, which reached the Red Planet’s orbit earlier this year and is currently collecting never before sourced data.
Today, everybody knows the names of Astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi. The UAE Astronaut Programme (UAEAP) has not only put the first Emirati in space, but also inspired a generation of space lovers and created an unprecedented interest in the field of space travel, science and technology. Today, UAEAP is comprised of 4 astronauts, including Mohammad AlMulla and Nora AlMatrooshi, the first Arab woman astronaut.
The UAE is further striving enhance its own capacities, whether it is to have a roster of home-grown talents, astronaut corps or even technologies that are conceived, designed and completed indigenously.
What lies beyond
2021 and beyond will be even better and bigger for the next frontier. The UAE is currently in the process of building the first Arab rover to the Moon, aptly named the Rashid Rover, after the builder of the modern renaissance of Dubai and one of the founders of the UAE. The Emirates Lunar Mission is an ambitious national project, which hopes to reinvigorate Arab scientific renaissance in the region and consolidate the gains made by the UAE in the space sector over the past decade.
Other strategic programmes in the field of space for the coming decade includes sourcing new and unique scientific data from the Hope Probe that will be accessible to more than 200 academic and scientific research institutions around the world. The UAE is also home to the Mars 2117 Programme, which will utilise the latest human knowledge to explore space, while the satellite development programme will help increase the efficiency of the satellite network and locally developed advanced space technologies.
Another key component of the strategy is the UAE Space Sector Sustainability Programme, that will see the setting up of Centre for Innovation and Development, in partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Ministry of Education, Dubai University and a selection of institutions specialised in space sciences. MBRSC is also building a supportive environment for space entrepreneurs, inspiring more than 22,000 students to take up space sciences, and contribute to making the UAE a hub for space technology.
Hosting IAC 2021 in Dubai
While many of us won’t be here to see the fruition of the long long-term ambitious projects of the space sector, the work done by the brilliant minds of today will be a stepping-stone into space and its vastness for the next generation of dreamers and doers from the Arab region. The hosting of the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai this coming October heralds a new space age for the region and will inculcate the passion that will lead the next generation to aim for the next big thing in space. The Congress also presents the opportunity for countries from the Arab region to expand collaborations with space agencies and entrepreneurs from around the world. Such solidarity is what will further enhance the use of space for peace, hope, and a brighter tomorrow.
Around the world, space entrepreneurs are executing plans to take advantage of the tremendous decrease of the costs of accessing space and operating in it. Their efforts along with those of governments around the world merit our attention; not just for the growth of the space industry, but for expanding the knowledge of the far beyond. So, be part of the historic International Astronautical Congress 2021, and witness the beginning of the renaissance of space science and knowledge for the region.
Salem AlMarri is the Deputy Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre and the IAC 2021 LOC Chair. He is responsible for ensuring the success of various programmes within the UAE National Space Programme including Mars 2117, Emirates Mars Mission, UAE Astronaut Programme, and the UAE Satellite Programme. Al Marri also oversees the expansion of the MBRSC into new scientific and technical fields alongside ensuring continuing developments in the space sector.
With over fifteen years of experience AlMarri has been an integral part of the teams that set up both the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) in 2006, which then merged under the umbrella of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in 2015. He was one of the first engineers to form the core of the Knowledge Transfer Programme based on an agreement with South Korea›s Satrec Initiative.
AlMarri received the UAE Pioneers Award in 2014 for being the first project manager of the UAE satellite Dubaisat-1 and Dubaisat-2. He has represented the UAE and the MBRSC in over 50 international conferences worldwide and has been a returning member of the delegation to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPOUS).
AlMarri was the head of the bidding team that won the rights to host the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Dubai. He is the lead of the organising committee (LOC Chair) for this global event being hosted for the first time ever in an Arab country.