Naser Al Hammadi, Head, International Organisations and Relations, UAE Space Agency, tells Sankar Sri Pillai why knowledge sharing with others nations in space research is critical to the UAE space programme
The UAE Space Agency is the first organisation from the Arab world to be a member of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group. What does this mean for the agency and the UAE?
The mandate of the UAE leadership and the government is clearly stated in the UAE Vision 2021, for the need to enhance the international reputation of the UAE. This means that we need to attain leading positions within various sectors, including space exploration. The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), made up of 14 partners including the UAE Space Agency, NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency and others, is a non-binding forum that enables space agencies to share information about their space exploration plans, objectives and interests with the goal of strengthening individual agency exploration programmes and the collective effort.
That said, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, tasked us to communicate and collaborate with our neighbours in the Arab region as well. Collaborating and working together ensures better results and this is an international practice. From the Asian countries to Europe and the American nations, they all have communities and alliances. The Arab nations — at least in the space sector — were lagging behind the other global regions. As an individual nation, though, the UAE has advanced within the space sector. It has a mature space programme today, but this does not mean that we should work alone. So, we have a clear mandate from Shaikh Mohammad that we should strengthen ties with Arab nations in the space sector as well. Hence, the founding of the first Arab Space Cooperation Group by Shaikh Mohammad in March of this year is a milestone for the UAE and the regional space sector.
Please share some details about the UAE’s collaboration internationally in the field of satellite launches
In less than six years we have successfully managed to build collaborations and strategic relationships with 25 space agencies worldwide through agreements. Of course, more than the number, we are following up on the valuable results that we are gaining from these relationships. The Russian space agency Roscosmos, for example, shares a close bond with the UAE and its space programme thanks to the strong political ties shared by the UAE and the Russian Federation.
We signed an MoU with Roscosmos in 2015 that is helping generate tangible results. For instance, our first Emirati astronauts were trained in Russia to prepare them for their first space mission to the International Space Centre. Other examples include collaborating with Japanese space agency JAXA to launch the UAE Mars probe, Hope, next July, part of the Emirati Mars Mission programme. We also have projects on the anvil with French space agency CNES, as well as other global bodies, in the field of education and research.
The UAE space programme may be young but we consider ourselves to be very ambitious and aggressive enough to attract global players to look at and gain inspiration from what we are doing in the space field. For instance we are soon going to be building the Mars Science City in Dubai, which I believe is the best practice model that we have on the ground in the UAE, that will definitely open up avenues for other nations, global entrepreneurs and the private sector to come and study and invest in our programme.
Various delegations representing space industries of other nations have visited the UAE for knowledge sharing purposes, starting with the visit of the NASA team that visited the UAE on the personal invitation of Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1976. How has the UAE space mission benefited from similar visits?
I consider this as the start of the UAE space programme and this meeting between the US Apollo Mission team from NASA and the UAE’s Founding Father, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in 1976 is a conversation starter that we coincidentally always use during our presentations to global space agencies and international organisations, about how ideating on space exploration actually started in the UAE. Today, what started as a dream is now a reality. Over the years we have had similar exchanges with various other space agencies on a knowledge sharing basis and the results have been very beneficial for the visiting nations and of course for the UAE. But it all goes back to that meeting that happened in 1976, which was the start.
What global events have the UAE Space Agency partnered with to promote its space mission projects?
Since the establishment of the UAE Space Agency in 2014, we have already managed to host the Global Space Congress in March this year in Abu Dhabi. We also regularly attend meetings hosted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which are held regularly in Vienna, Austria. In 2017 the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre hosted the High Level Forum for UNOOSA in which we participated, and that was attended by the UN Secretary General as well as the international community.
Next year, for the first time in the Middle East, we are hosting the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai with global space agencies, professors, scientists and the international research body in participation. The current edition is being held in Washington DC in the US this year.