Dr Khaled Al Hashmi, Director, Space Missions, Science and Technology, UAE Space Agency and Director, National Space Science and Technology Centre, tells Sankar Sri Pillai about how the Centre is helping raise awareness on space among the youth
What is the role of the National Space Science and Technology Centre (NSSTC) in developing a new generation of space scientists and explorers?
The NSSTC was established mainly to fulfil this very objective. Launched jointly by the UAE Space Agency, the UAE University (UAEU) and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the NSSTC is located within the UAEU as we wish to link the activities of the Centre such as building satellites or research and development with student programmes.
The master vision for the NSSTC encompasses involving the students in many of our key projects, so for instance we included undergraduate students in the UAE Space Agency’s MeznSat nanosatellite programme, which is now a part of their graduation project. We also ensure our programmes are linked with the thesis projects for students following up on a Masters degree.
Which courses should students enrol in to pursue a career in space technology?
I would encourage students to follow up on any engineering course to pursue a career in space, from mechanical and communications to aerospace.
Degrees in physics and mathematics are also very good. A lot of students are currently enrolling for aerospace engineering at Khalifa University and seeing this interest, UAEU will be launching a course in Aerospace Engineering, as well as a Masters in Space Science. Khalifa University also happened to launch a Minor in Space Engineering, so for instance, a mechanical engineering student applying for the programme can also gain good practical experience through research projects on space programmes, linking their graduate studies with their work on the satellite programme.
The employment options for aerospace engineers are many, from the space and launch vehicle industries to military and commercial aviation, so I would encourage students to consider space as a viable profession.
Are there any international affiliations that the NSSTC enjoys with global space organisations?
The NSSTC is in the process of setting up collaborations with two universities abroad. I cannot divulge names now, however, one is based in the US and the other in Europe.
With the first Emirati heading to space this month, are there any programmes that have been arranged by the NSSTC for students?
A core student group from UAEU is involved in the palm in space project, with palm tree seeds being carried into space to the ISS. The research for the programme, initiated by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre, the UAE Space Agency and NSSTC involves studying how a space environment could affect growth in flora, especially palm trees. The data and details of the research will be analysed by scientists and researchers including the UAEU core student group members.
A lot of interest about space has built up among the UAE student community. Are there any scholarships or student endowments that the NSSTC plans to announce in the near future for meritorious students?
With support from ICT funding, we are offering stipends for students for Masters. On receiving the stipend, we link their study programme with our projects to allow them practical exposure. At the moment we have three students receiving a stipend, and plan to increase the number this year and the next.