Abdulla Al Marar, Head of Space Projects, UAE Space Agency, talks about the founding of the MeznSat programme and how it is a driver for students pursuing a career in space
One of the main objectives of the UAE Space Agency is to build capabilities in the space sector, in space engineering and sciences, especially within the university community. MeznSat, initiated in 2017, began as an education programme to design, build and operate a satellite, but at an educational level.
There is a global trend in space education programmes, encouraging the use of CubeSats or nanosatellites to engage students in satellite and space research. However, what started as an educational trend is now slowly turning commercial with private agencies and companies using satellites built by student bodies for commercial purposes.
The UAE Space Agency followed up on this trend with the founding of the MeznSat programme, a 3U CubeSat that will be used to study the environment and also look at greenhouse gas emissions over the UAE, especially methane and carbon dioxide. The programme is founded and run by the UAE Space Agency with participation by two local universities, Khalifa University and the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK).
Now, while universities usually compete with each other, our idea at the UAE Space Agency was to get the two universities to come together and collaborate on the MeznSat project and benefit from each other’s strengths. Most of the undergraduates participating in the project were from Khalifa University, considering it already has the YahSat Space Lab, and were initially working on a CubeSat programme before MeznSat. So, while Khalifa University has the expertise and the facilities, it also has some postgraduates coming back and working with the undergraduates and sharing their expertise. The UAE Space Agency sees the big picture and wishes all universities to cooperate and work with each other, allowing the UAE to benefit from this synergy.
While MeznSat is expected to launch early next year, the programme itself is part of a broader nanosatellite programme, with a series of nanosatellites expected to be built by students from various universities. The idea is to get other universities to participate in the programme and look at contributing to the satellite payload, which could include anything from a camera to a communications device.
The launch of the first Emirati astronaut, of course, has only raised interest in the UAE space programme among students here, including in the MeznSat programme and we are hoping that this will generate the required interest among universities to come and be a part of the UAE space programme in the short and long term.