From left: Francois Auque, CEO, Airbus Defence and Space; George Whitesides, CEO, Virgin Galactic; Dr. Rolf Densing, programme director for European Space Programmes at the German Aerospace Centre; John Celli, president at SS L, and Bruno Bajard, managing director and head of the space department at Marsh Paris, at the Global Spaces and Satellite Forum. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Dubai: Airbus Group expects a UAE company will manufacture and supply it with space components in a similar tie-up to its existing arrangement with Mubadala’s Strata Manufacturing as the country steps up its space ambitions.

The UAE announced on Monday its strategic framework for the newly created UAE Space Agency that will oversee the country’s industry that includes existing space satellite programmes and plans for a mission to Mars in 2020.

“There [are] grounds to work together on such an ambitious mission,” Francois Auque, member of the executive committee of Airbus Group and head of space systems at Airbus Defence and Space, told Gulf News at the Global Space and Satellite Forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Airbus has been working with the UAE on its space programme for the past ten years, notably with Mubadala’s Al Yah Satellite Communications Co (Yahsat) and is the leader of the industrial team building the Falcon Eye satellite for the UAE Armed Forces.

“The next step will be [for the UAE] to build equipment or subsystems of satellites or space vehicles,” Auque said.

Strata, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, has billions of dollars in contracts to manufacture and supply Airbus with commercial aircraft parts. Those contracts came after years of aircraft orders by local airlines Emirates, one of the world’s largest airlines, and Etihad Airways, one of the fastest-growing airlines.

Airbus is looking to tie-up with oil-rich UAE to alleviate financial pressure as European governments cut spending on military space programmes as they re-evaluate spending after years of austerity.

“Today you don’t sell any space system if you’re not able to customise the transfer of technology and training package,” Auque said.

Airbus is hopeful its expertise will be useful to the UAE, which is trying to develop a diversified and robust economy not solely dependent on oil revenues.

“Our strategy is very simple and very open. We want to benefit from a share of those new projects in exchange [for] bringing value,” Auque said.

“Potentially benefiting from a share of your budget is a way for us to secure growth but of course there is a counter part, what we bring both in terms of parts of programmes and transfer of technology training and investment for the future,” he added.

The components that Strata has manufactured for Airbus’ commercial fleet have shown that the “capability” exists in the UAE to manufacture space parts, Auque said.

However, he did not state if a deal had been reached with the UAE.

“It’s their decision. I think it can be done within a time frame of a few years if the ambition is there,” he said.