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The UAE’s navigation satellite will be the first project of Satellite Assembly, Integration and Testing. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Pixabay

While the successful Emirates Mars Mission and the first Emirati astronaut have hit the headlines, the UAE’s recent Dh3 billion space spend will significantly contribute to an area of the nation’s space sector that receives less attention — the development of satellite technology.

The UAE’s first space endeavor was Al Thuraya in 1975, for mobile satellite services, and it was through Al Thuraya that the UAE Space Programme became a satellite operator in 1997. Now, the UAE operates nine satellites through three operators, designed to open up the possibilities of mobile communications, and advanced remote sensing.

Satellites have also been a way for the UAE to encourage and support STEM subjects among young Emiratis. Global technology leaders in the country, are collaborating with the government economic programme - Tawazun Council - to promote space education and employment. This is being done by training UAE Nationals through job placement programmes within the radar domain, radio communications, and even in space.

Satellites continue to play a critical role in the UAE’s National Space Strategy 2030, but for more relatable reasons than may at first, seem obvious. They play a critical role in improving our daily lives while also supporting the smooth running of essential sectors such as maritime, aviation, manufacturing, and more. How so? Here are three specific areas.

Tech-driven infrastructural development Satellites provide businesses and governments with valuable insight and data through a technique called ‘Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar’ (InSar), a system that captures multiple images over the same region across miles of land. This can be used in many different ways, especially in supporting the infrastructural development of roads, buildings, and pipelines.

The ability to measure precisely can be used to alert governments to infrastructure deformations, and satellites with ground reflectors, also called ‘persistent scatterers’, can be used to identify faults in man-made structures. This information forms an early warning system to help keep the public safe during natural disasters and allows for advanced risk management planning in the event of construction accidents, poorly maintained roads, and other similar infrastructural challenges.

Through the UAE’s Dh3 billion space fund, the first investment has now been made towards a constellation of imaging satellites that use synthetic aperture radar technology to monitor land use, surface changes, and urban planning. These small-scale satellites are designed to be more powerful, agile, and faster to develop and can capture sharp images, not possible through conventional satellite imaging.

Such satellite technology, with its advanced optical sensors, provides a bird’s-eye-view, day and night through fog and cloud cover, of infrastructure before any major damage is done to human life or surroundings.

Enhanced environmental protection

While much environmental change is evident around us, there are many pressing ecological dangers invisible to the human eye. Satellites play a crucial role in observing the environment and reporting back a detailed analysis of previously unseen findings.

For instance, the European Space Agency developed the ‘Sentinel’ family of satellites that monitor land and sea in all weather conditions, achieve meteorology and climatology missions, and monitor the global ocean.

The UAE contributed to tackling climate change with the launch of the country’s first environmental satellite. Developed through the collaborative forces of Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and Dubai Municipality, the satellite is responsible for monitoring, collecting, and analysing environmental data, including air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

The data collected through the state-of-the-art satellite’s environmental monitoring equipment will be used to determine long-term plans to combat climate crises and map the future environmental landscape in the UAE.

New and improved broadcast performance

Billions of people and companies every day rely on satellite infrastructure for entertainment, communications and information. The availability of internet communications’ satellites has allowed almost universal access to Over the Top (OTT) streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, whose audiences are provided with high-speed, uninterrupted, and fresh HD content.

Legacy broadcasters are being pushed to transition from a traditional operating model to a highly agile system that serves audiences with a variety of content at lightning speed, giving everyone a wider choice in what they watch.

As the UAE brings together government and private sectors to achieve its lofty space ambitions, investments into the latest satellite technology will continue to have positive effects on all our lives.

What next in the industry?

Using satellites to transfer quantum information is actively being pursued as one of the most effective methods to realise quantum communications over varying ranges. Quantum information networks, which will unlock the potential in this field, are currently being researched.

The industry is seeing rapid development of quantum computing and quantum sensing technologies, and for Thales, this is just the start – we are shaping quantum communications infrastructure of the future.