Image Credit: WAM

The launch of MySat-1, developed and built by Khalifa University of Science and Technology students, reveals the rapid maturation of UAE’s space sector. This follows the October launch of KhalifaSat, developed by a team of Emirati professionals at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) under the supervision of the UAE Space Agency. The UAE’s space sector is now in a phase where we are witnessing accelerated progress as we move towards the launch of the Hope (Mars probe) in 2020.

MySat-1 was launched into space last Saturday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (Mars), on Wallops Island in Virginia, United States, as part of the Cygnus OA-10 flight, aboard an Antares rocket. It is destined for the International Space Station, where it will carry out an educational and research mission. The CubeSat carries a camera as a payload to take images of Earth from space to refine the process of remote sensing. It will also test a novel lithium-ion battery designed and developed at Khalifa University.

While not the first nano-satellite developed in the UAE, MySat-1 is among the first to be developed by local students who have been taught within the country, at one of the UAE’s own universities. The students who designed and built MySat-1 were part of Khalifa University’s Master’s concentration in space systems and technology programme, which was developed by the university in partnership with the UAE’s satellite industry leader, Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) — a Mubadala-owned satellite communications company — and Northrop Grumman, an American defence and aerospace manufacturing company. The programme has been evolving to support multiple missions through the concentration and also through the involvement of students in other space missions funded by the UAE Space Agency.

Mars probe

Students who graduate from the programme will play a critical role in achieving the UAE’s goal of sending the Arab world’s first unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, coinciding with the country’s 50th anniversary. Roughly, 75 Emirati scientists and engineers, working for MBRSC and the UAE Space Agency, are engaged with implementing the Emirates Mars Mission.

Next year, Emirati astronauts will be orbiting the Earth, and in less than two years, our Hope probe will be bound for Mars.

- By Khaled Al Hashmi, Special to Gulf News

The Master’s programme offered by Khalifa University, with its Small Satellite Programme, is ideal for attracting young ambitious Emirati students and giving them the guidance and skills they need to meet current and future challenges.

Of course, reaching for the stars is no easy feat, and to do it in such a short period of time. The UAE’s space sector is only around 12 years old. As we move ahead to close the remaining gaps in the UAE’s space sector capabilities, we have looked at those who have escaped the barriers of Earth’s atmosphere before us.

Increasing literacy

MBRSC recently partnered with the European Space Agency (ESA) to train the UAE’s first Emirati astronaut, who will blast off to International Space Station in April 2019. The UAE has also partnered with Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, to take the UAE’s first-ever Emirati astronaut to International Space Station.

The UAE Space Agency has also recently joined the International Space Education Board, which has a goal of increasing literacy in space and related science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, as well as supporting the development of advanced skills that will be required by future space programmes. We hope through this and our other activities to not only inspire the UAE’s own people, but also the greater Arab world. The UAE has already brought 11 other Arab countries together to talk about space cooperation. Together, we can achieve what may now appear impossible.

Next year, Emirati astronauts will be orbiting the Earth, and in less than two years, our Hope probe will be bound for Mars.

Yet, these projects are only the beginning. We will continue to dream big and strive forward together.

Khaled Al Hashmi is senior director of Space Missions at the UAE Space Agency.