As the UAE Space Strategy is officially launched today at a special event in Abu Dhabi, Eng. Naser Alrashedi, Director, National Space Policy and Regulation, UAE Space Agency, speaks to GN Focus about why national pride is so important in building upon the nation’s successful space programme
From prioritising programmes to following up on trends, how do you quantify the initiatives and R&D undertaken by the UAE’s space programme?
One of the challenges we sought to address while formulating the UAE Space Policy was looking at how the space sector value chain is sliced. Based on the analysis we structured around 23 segments within the space sector, from R&D all the way to data application, types of manufacturing and operation, to those providing added value services. On top of that we did 736 calculations to help us factor the sort of segments that need to be focused upon, taking into account feasibility as well as trends, attractiveness, priorities, baseline, benchmark, legalities, scope of interest and more.
There are 32 such criteria that we should be focusing on between now and 2030, for each of the 23 segments that I mentioned. This was one of the tools to make sure that our strategy is effective and is really responding to the nation’s needs given the trends and the capabilities that exist today, and those that are in the pipeline.
A good national policy for any sector is essentially influenced by international policies implemented by the world’s progressive economies. How does this translate for the UAE Space Policy?
I can’t emphasise this enough, to have a proper policy and regulatory framework for the space programme what you need is coordination, coordination, coordination. It involves intra-sector coordination, collaborating with different players within the space sector, with R&D organisations, active academies as well as operators who are into space.
There is inter-sector coordination, involving working with other sectors such as the environment sector, aviation, telecommunications, energy, education and transportation, and gauging their needs and expectations and the projects they are currently working on, and where space research can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Internationally, be it a UN organisation or other players, coordination is an effective tool in being able to provide a proper policy, strategy, or a regulatory law, to understand how one is contributing to meet expectation, as well as maximising benefits accrued from research and in ensuring sustainable growth.
What kind of policy groundwork needs to be initiated for the UAE’s future projects in space?
Space exploration and research has largely got to do with things that have never been tried before. For satellite communications or earth observation, a large percentage of the task at hand is repeating what has already been done, while also advancing the technology. But space exploration requires landing for the first time in an alien environment, going where no one has gone before, this requires a different type of research, and investment.
To understand and gauge, for example a moon landing or landing on Mars, requires mirroring the environment out there back here on Earth. This means a considerable investment of resources. The Mars Science City, for example mirrors the Mars environment right here on Earth and will allow scientists and researchers to experiment on various topics aiding in space exploration.
However, I feel what is most important in terms of groundwork for future space programmes is to develop a sense of space culture among the UAE youth, instilling a sense of achievement in them and that rigid belief that nothing, if you work hard enough is impossible to achieve.
There is so much that this nation of ours has achieved in such a short time that I am justifiably proud that I am Emirati, and if I wasn’t one already, I would love to be born an Emirati.
How important is it for the space programme to constantly stay ahead of the curve?
Space research is all about exploring and pioneering initiatives for a more secure and safe future for generations to come, reason why the vision for the UAE space programme is to be among the most pioneering and advanced countries in space. It is therefore critical that we commit to constant future foresight exercises with the experts, with global space leaders.
In this regard, the UAE Space Agency has an advisory committee representing space leaders from various parts of the world, from the US and China to Russia, India, Japan, Korea and Saudi Arabia, offering very diverse and rich experiences, with whom we conduct regular foresight exercises that look at predicting future issues and offering solutions. The big picture of course is to integrate all this activity into our policy framework.
How do you monitor if the UAE space sector is working towards its goals proactively? Does the sector set KPIs for itself?
To answer that question, we need to look at how aligned the UAE space programme is to the nation’s overall vision, towards which several strategies contribute. Hence, we looked at 29 separate strategies implemented by the UAE and put a process in place to closely monitor and track how space research can contribute to these strategies.
The strategies include everything from the UAE Centennial 2071 plan, the UAE Science Technology and Innovation Policy, the UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, all the way to the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036, and the National Food Security Strategy 2051. We even looked at the UAE Soft Power Strategy, the nation’s aviation policy as well as the Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 strategy and the nation’s Youth Empowerment Strategy.
Besides, to ensure that space has enough to offer these strategies to provide the desired impact, we needed a communications and governance plan in place for which we identified key stakeholders. Discussions are now ongoing about establishing a committee to oversee the progress, implementation and later on impact of the communications and governance plan. And this obviously meant setting proper sector KPIs that would be monitored.
Under the directives of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the UAE Space Agency worked closely with the Prime Minister’s Office to put a space sector health check in place, which involved KPIs and targets between now and 2030 that we will monitor frequently. With it, we also attached a risk management plan to gain awareness on the key risks we faced in the coming period and how we ought to react to them.