A visitor to the Global Space and Satellite Forum uses a telescope at the Dubai Astronomy Club stand at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Image Credit: Alex Westcott/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Forming an international space traffic management body has become crucial as more and more nations, including developing ones, start harnessing space as a strategic resource for communication, surveillance, defence and a variety of commercial and civil uses, a leading air and space expert said in the capital on Wednesday.

While such a body would help prevent satellite collisions, there must also be more discussions between countries with existing space capacities and the nations of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region that are now launching their own space industries, Dr John Sheldon, professor of space and cyberspace studies at the US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, told Gulf News.

"Countries that have long been established in the space industry, like the United States, Russia and European Union nations, are missing out on significant partnerships with Mena countries because there are too few discussions between them about space. However, space is as strategic a resource as land, air and water, and in this technology-dependent century, countries can no longer treat their space policies in this field," Sheldon said. He was speaking on the sidelines of the Global Space and Satellite Forum, which concluded in the capital yesterday. During its run, the three-day forum saw academicians, government representatives and investors discuss existing and emerging space-related technologies and trends.

Sheldon pointed to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as an example of how the space traffic management body could function to coordinate satellite launches and traffic. "Space is congested now and as more satellites are launched, international coordination becomes a necessity so that collisions do not disrupt important disaster management and communication services," he said.

Collision path

Without it, more and more satellite collisions like the US satellite Iridium 33's February 2009 collision with Russia's Kos-mos-2251 satellite are possible and even inevitable, the space expert added.

Within the Mena region, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have launched satellites for a range of science and technology, earth observation and communications purposes.

"The global positioning system (GPS) is operated using only 30 US satellites, and it is essentially possible to have a global communication system with just three satellites placed 120 degrees apart," Sheldon said.