Space exploration is of great significance to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has taken another major leap with UAE astronaut Dr Sultan Al Neyadi arriving at the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 Mission, marking the Arab world’s first long-duration space mission and the UAE’s second mission to the ISS.
There are, however, broader objectives that the UAE is seeking to accomplish.
By investing in space-related activities the UAE intends to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. The UAE has set a goal of developing a knowledge-based economy, and space exploration is seen as a key area of growth and development for the country.
Space exploration is also a way to inspire and engage the country’s youth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The UAE has placed a strong emphasis on education and workforce development in recent years, and investing in space exploration is seen as a way to encourage more students to pursue STEM careers.
First Arab country to reach Mars
In addition, the UAE sees space exploration as a way to enhance its international reputation and promote the country as a global leader in science and technology. By investing in space-related activities, the UAE aims to position itself as a hub for space research and innovation in the Middle East and beyond.
One of the most notable examples of the UAE’s space diplomacy is the Emirates Mars Mission, which sent the country’s first spacecraft, the Hope Probe, to Mars in 2021. The mission involved collaboration with scientists and engineers from several countries, including the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The UAE’s participation in the mission demonstrated the country’s commitment to international cooperation in space exploration and research. The UAE made history by becoming the first Arab country and the fifth in the world to reach Mars with the successful insertion of the Hope spacecraft into Mars’ orbit.
Another example of the UAE’s space diplomacy is its participation in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). The UAE has been an active member of the committee and has contributed to its work on promoting peaceful uses of outer space and developing international space law
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) is a key player in the UAE’s space industry. It is responsible for developing and implementing the country’s space strategy and advancing its space capabilities.
The UAE Space Agency has established partnerships with several nations and international organisations and signed collaboration agreements with NASA, Japan, and China, the European Space Agency and memoranda of understanding with the US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), UK, China, and the National Space Science and Technology Center. The UAE has also doubled the size of its astronaut corps, including the selection of the first Arab female astronaut.
In 2022, the UAE launched a $820 million fund to boost space initiatives, with the first investment going toward the establishment of a remote sensing satellite constellation.
One of the UAE’s space programmes main objectives is to ensure the security and sustainability of its space assets. The UAE operates several satellites for various purposes, including remote sensing, Earth observation, and communication. These satellites are critical for the UAE’s economic, social, and strategic development.
Sustainable space practices
In terms of space security, the UAE has taken several steps to mitigate the risks to its space assets. For example, the UAE Space Agency has established a Space Debris Mitigation Guideline to minimise the risks of collision with space debris. The UAE has also invested in space situational awareness (SSA) technologies to enhance its ability to detect and track potential threats to its space assets.
Regarding space sustainability, the UAE has adopted a sustainable approach to space activities. The UAE Space Agency has developed a Space Sustainability Rating system to evaluate and promote sustainable space practices.
There are several initiatives and programmes that are a testament to the UAE’s commitment to situating itself as a hub for space research and innovation in the Middle East and beyond.
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) is a key player in the UAE’s space industry. It is responsible for developing and implementing the country’s space strategy and advancing its space capabilities. The centre also conducts research, develops technology, and operates space missions.
In 2020, Dubai launched its Space Science Strategy, which aims to enhance the emirate’s space science capabilities and contribute to the global space sector. The strategy focuses on developing the necessary infrastructure, research and development, and human capital to support Dubai’s space ambitions.
In 2017, the UAE announced the construction of the Mars Scientific City, a simulation of a human settlement on Mars. The city will be used to conduct research and develop technology for human exploration of Mars.
The UAE astronaut’s presence on the ISS provides further opportunities for scientific research collaborations with other astronauts on board. The research conducted on the ISS will significantly contribute to the understanding of various scientific fields, and the UAE will benefit greatly from being part of this important scientific endeavour.
Sending a UAE astronaut to space to be part of the ISS is another significant achievement for the UAE’s space programme and its ambitions to become a global leader in space exploration and innovation.
— Dr. Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow and Director of the International Security & Terrorism Program at Trends Research & Advisory, Dubai. Gina Bou Serhal is a Researcher at the Strategic Studies Department at Trends Research & Advisory, Dubai.