Dubai: The UAE’s journey to space has reached another milestone on Monday with its first satellite DubaiSat-1 marking a decade since its launch into orbit.
On July 29, 2009, the country took its first leap into space when it launched its first UAE-owned Earth Observation satellite, the DubaiSat-1.
The eye in the sky orbiting Earth at an altitude of 682km took thousands of high-resolution optical images captured at 2.5 panchromatic during Dubai’s unprecedented growth. It chronicled how the UAE transformed into the metropolis it is now. But it also helped provide images to other countries that needed it.
Here are 10 interesting facts behind DubaiSat-1:
1) Build or Buy?
Buying an Earth imaging satellite is an easy option for many countries. Dubai took a different route, however. It decided to build its own satellite, DubaiSat-1, that paved the way to the emirate’s journey into the satellite manufacturing sector.
Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), then known as Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST), worked with a team in South Korea to develop the Earth observation satellite. A Korean team joined by an Emirati team completed the satellite that served as a vital tool in supporting the UAE’s urban planning.
2) Partly-Emirati made
The MBRSC engineers, composed of young men who made up 30 per cent of the whole team, were the first batch of space engineers who were part of the Knowledge Transfer Programme of MBRSC to invest in the human capital in the UAE. The experience provided the engineers with real-life, hands-on insights to the advanced space science.
3) New environment
The first team was composed of three young men who landed in South Korea in May 2006. Apart from learning how to build a satellite, they also had to learn how to blend in. Speaking the Korean language was a plus. Even finding a McDonalds was a problem unless they asked people with a Korean accent. But they eventually adjusted and everything went smoothly from then on.
4) Launch of DubaiSat-1 was delayed for months
Once completed, DubaiSat-1 was ready for launch originally from ISC Kosmotras’ Yasny Space Centre. But space officials abroad then decided to move it to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This decision took a while.
In the book The Race to Space published by MBRSC, they said, “It was a frustrating delay for the MBRSC team as they had been waiting almost a year to launch their completed satellite.”
5) First series of UAE images after 11 days
After a successful launch on July 29, DubaiSat-1 transmitted its first series of images of the UAE from orbit on August 9. The first photo was of the Dubai coastline featuring The World islands. The other photos were hi-res images of Palm Jebel Ali that was still under construction at that time. The structure of the Palm Tree was already clearly visible from space.
6) UAE’s first atlas
DubaiSat-1’s images were compiled and published in the UAE’s first atlas built entirely by a team of Emirati cartographers, engineers and researchers. The application is the first of its kind in the UAE that used the most updated live images, even more recent than those found on Google Earth at that time.
The 127-page atlas contained 70 images covering 83,600 square kilometres that featured Dubai’s skyscrapers, the empty expanse of the Rub Al Khali desert, the Ferrari World, Saadiyat Island, Palm Islands and Al Maktoum International Airport. These photos were selected out of 9,000 available images.
7) Helped in Relief efforts
DubaiSat-1 also played a key role in supporting relief efforts in areas devastated by earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. The images were provided to the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency as part of a global effort to help assess and plan relief efforts.
8) Instrumental in the creation of Pan-Geo Alliance
With two fully-functioning satellites under its belt, the DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2, MBRSC co-founded the PanGeo Alliance in October 2014. The Alliance brought together four global imaging satellite operators namely, MBRSC, the US/Russian Dauria Aerospace, Spain’s Elecnor Deimos and the Chinese Beijing Space Eye Innovation Technology.
The Alliance allowed “smaller operators to come together to market and fulfill a range of civil and government contracts”, according to MBRSC.
9) Surpassed its design life
With a design life of five years, DubaiSat-1 surpassed its scheduled time in space by a year. To celebrate this, DubaiSat-1 took high quality images of the Burj Khalifa and the Downtown Dubai area.
DubaiSat-1’s imaging operations lasted until March 2016 when its mission came to an end. Satellite trackers show the satellite is still in orbit but current occasional contacts are for testing and telemetry download only.
10) Predecessor of two more satellites
The Emirati engineers who helped build DubaiSat-1 then went on to co-build DubaiSat-2 that was launched in space in 2013. Five years later, the same engineers formed a team of 70 men and women to build the first 100 per cent Emirati-made satellite, the KhalifaSat, that was launched on October 29 last year.