Dubai: Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi’s groundbreaking 186-day mission on the International Space Station (ISS) marks a pivotal moment, heralding a ‘space renaissance’ in the UAE. And for UAE’s leading business leaders, especially those in the aeronautical and aerospace sectors, space exploration presents a new frontier.
Rashed Al Ansari, Group CEO of Al Ansari Financial Services, said: “He [Al Neyadi] etched history as the first Arab to accomplish a spacewalk and set the record for the longest space mission by an Arab astronaut. As we mark this occasion, we take pride in highlighting that this historic event is the embodiment of the ambition of the UAE’s Founding Father, the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. This remarkable feat not only signifies a remarkable achievement but also represents a crucial step in the UAE’s commitment to bolster Arab civilisation.”
The UAE’s investment in the space sector has already exceeded Dh22 billion (around$6 billion), including satellite communications, Earth and space exploration, data transmission, satellite broadcasting, and mobile satellite communications, among others.
And according to UAE business leaders, the nation’s next step in achieving its space ambitions are poised to benefit industries such as meteorology, energy, telecommunications, transportation, maritime, aviation, and urban development.
Mohammad Badri, Owner and Managing Director of Eros Group, said: “It is a source of great pride and accomplishment for the UAE. Sultan Al Neyadi’s journey into space signifies a pivotal moment in the nation’s scientific and space research pursuits. We applaud his historic mission and eagerly anticipate further accomplishments in the realm of space exploration in the years to come.”
A new generation of space heroes
Most importantly, Al Neyadi’s journey will inspire a new generation of UAE youth to pursue careers in the sector, especially since the prospect of space exploration has become a tangible reality.
The endeavours of Al Neyadi and Hazzaa Al Mansoori, UAE’s first astronaut to travel to space, are igniting heightened interest in career opportunities among UAE’s youth, said Mansoor Janahi, Managing Director and Group CEO of Sanad – a Mubadala Company. He said: “The investments our nation is channelling into space missions will fuel the demand for pilots, engineers, and technicians.”
Sanad is a provider of Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) services and lease finance solutions in the aerospace sector.
Moreover, Al Neyadi’s background as a UAE Air Force pilot brings a unique perspective, highlighting the seamless progression from aviation to space exploration, said Janahi. “His expertise emphasises the synergy between the two domains, highlighting that the skills developed in aviation are highly relevant in space missions,” said Janahi.
Heightened interest in STEM programmes
Janahi also said UAE’s space mission underscores the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. “These fields nurture exceptional talent equipped with critical skills needed not only in the space sector but also equally important in aviation,” he explained.
Dr Azad Moopen, Founder Chairman and Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare, said: “We are immensely proud of Sultan Al Neyadi’s historic mission aboard the International Space Station, which is a significant milestone in the UAE’s space journey. His six-months mission has been an inspiration for the youth and people of UAE.”
Notably, UAE higher education institutions are experiencing growing interest from Emirati and UAE resident students in enrolling for STEM subjects, particularly aeronautical and aerospace engineering programs. This surge in interest aligns with the UAE’s heightened space ambitions, as highlighted by Dr Mohamed Al Musleh, Assistant Professor at Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
“Programmes in data science and robotics are key components, with an emphasis on autonomous systems. Knowledge in project management is going to be crucial for handling these programmes, with a strong focus on communication aspects,” said Dr Musleh. Additionally, universities have evolved to incorporate technology steam such as AI with hybrid programmes, and are seeing a 40 per cent increase in intake for robotics programmes.
Hundreds of new jobs
Al Neyadi’s journey to space has ignited a fervour among the youth of our country, inspiring them to dream big and reach for the cosmos, said Ghaith Al Ghaith, CEO of Dubai carrier flydubai. He said: “Just as we transformed the UAE into a global hub for travel, trade and tourism, leading by example on economic development and investing in our people and infrastructure, we are now witnessing a new chapter unfold as a regional leader in space exploration.”
Already, local satellite component manufacturing and expertise development have created at least 3,200 jobs, with 57 space companies and organisations operating in the country. For example, MBZ-SAT project has played a pivotal role in expanding the country’s space industry. Around 90 per cent of its mechanical structure and 50 per cent of electronic modules are now made in the UAE, creating hundreds of jobs.
In 2021, the UAE Ministry of Economy said it is working with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to bring space tourism flights to the UAE. And in 2019, the UAE Space Agency and Virgin Galactic and the Spaceship Company (TSC) also signed an MoU planning for a SpaceShipTwo and carrier aircraft vehicle pair that would be operated from the UAE.
“As the UAE plans to establish a thriving space tourism industry, it represents an exciting opportunity to expand our influence and contribute to the growth of the space sector,” said Sanad’s Janahi.
“With our existing infrastructure and optimal desert conditions for space projects, our potential extends beyond economic impact to significantly influence the realms of space exploration and scientific advancements,” he explained.