Circa, the Sixties: The main economic activity in Dubai was pearl diving. Now, just a few decades later, the Emirate has progressed in astronomical ways. From the deepest ebbs of the Arabian Sea to the far reaches of outer space, Dubai has redefined what’s possible in such a short span of time. Founded in 2006, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre is the backbone of the UAE’s National Space Programme. The Centre specialises in building and operating earth observation satellites, and provides imaging and data analysis services to clients around the world. The Centre has thus far launched DubaiSat-1, DubaiSat-2, and recently in 2018 it launched the KhalifaSat on October 29 from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan. However, the biggest achievement is that KhalifaSat was entirely developed in the UAE by a team of Emirati engineers.
Furthermore, the Mars 2117 Programme aims to build the knowledge and scientific capabilities that will enable the UAE to realise humankind’s universal dream of the very first sustainable colony on the Red Planet within the next 100 years. Another sign of its growing influence is the fact that the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Volga-Dnepr Group to provide logistics services and air cargo solutions for the UAE Satellite Programme. Sure enough, the home-grown institute, in the spirit of sticking to tradition, has Emirati astronauts as well. Hazzaa Al-Mansoori was the first person from the country to head to the International Space Station. On September 25, 2019 he launched aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft to the International Space Station. He stayed there for eight days before landing safely in Kazakhstan.
Sure enough, the home-grown institute, in the spirit of sticking to tradition, has Emirati astronauts as well. Hazzaa Al-Mansoori was the first person from the country to head to the International Space Station. On September 25, 2019 he launched aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft to the International Space Station. He stayed there for eight days before landing safely in Kazakhstan.
For a country that is deeply rooted in tradition, the ambition for the future is immense. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre also has a fully-fledged Astronaut Programme, which came to fruition in April 2017 at the directive of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The programme aims to bring to life an Emirati astronaut corps and explore space for scientific purposes. What the nation seeks to achieve is to encourage youths to pursue a career in space science and technology in order to forge a future that is knowledge-based and competitive globally and yet gives a nod to the country’s heritage.
“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 have not only given a wealth of knowledge about the earth, universe and far beyond, but they have 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 through its satellite programme, astronaut programme, interplanetary missions and more. As a country, we are not only celebrating the past 50 years, but also looking towards a future of growth, prosperity and unity for the next 50,” says Adnan AlRais, Mars 2117 Programme Manager, MBRSC.
The country also aims at bringing women to the forefront of the space revolution. In a first for the Arab region, the Centre hand-picked its first female astronaut. Noura Al-Matroushi, along with Mohammed Al-Mulla is part of the second batch of astronauts to venture into space. The two were chosen from a group of 4,000 applicants. Not only does Noura’s selection for the programme demonstrate the progressive nature of the country, it shatters stereotypes associated with the region.
There is plenty of effort to develop the next generation of engineers as well. “Building a talent pool of the next generation of space engineers is vital to the sustainable growth of the space industry. MBRSC has always encouraged collaborations with the scientific community to and have a number of scientific programmes that are aimed at Emirati youth to explore newer research activities and application possibilities in the field of STEM.
“One of the core objectives of the centre has been to prepare qualified leaders in the UAE space industry by implementing sustainable training programmes and capacity building through know-how knowledge transfer programmes for all our projects and missions,” adds Adnan. There is an unfounded belief globally that women in the region are supressed – nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, it values traditions but there is nothing stopping women from achieving their hopes and dreams. Noura is a living example of how the UAE does everything to propel women to ever greater heights.
Speaking of heights, the UAE is also the first country in the region to launch a Mars Mission – Hope – for space exploration of the Red Planet. Launched on July 19, 2020, the Hope orbiter went into orbit around Mars on February 9, 2021. The entire mission was led by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. Assembled in the United States at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, it was supported by the Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley.
The core mission of the probe is to study seasonal weather cycles, as well as events in the lower atmosphere such as dust storms. It also assesses the variation in weather across different regions of Mars. It is yet another step by the government to progress towards a knowledge-based economy. In fact, Hope was the first of three space missions to Mars. Launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan with a Japanese rocket, all three probes arrived on Mars in February 2021. With stratospheric ambition and the will to follow through on its dreams the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre has indeed placed the UAE on the space exploration map. However, this merely seems to be the beginning. And you can bet your bottom dollar there is more to come. Much more…