Abu Dhabi: Even as it basks in the glory of the first successful space flight by an Emirati astronaut, the UAE’s space regulator on Tuesday launched a national strategy and investment plan that prioritises local expertise building, space tourism and space exploration missions.

At the launch ceremony in the capital, the UAE Space Agency also signed an agreement to promote Dubai South as the economic zone of choice for companies in the sector, and another to develop space start-ups in collaboration with innovation hub, Kryptolabs.

“This strategy aims to support the realisation of the UAE’s vision in the space sector with the various elements that fall under its umbrella, including science, technology, applications and services, whereas the investment plan seeks to increase the sector’s contribution to the UAE economy,” said Mohammad Al Ahbabi, director general at the Agency.

“With these in place, we hope to become a pioneer in the space sector,” he added.

UAE’s space ventures

The UAE has already invested more than Dh20 billion in the sector, starting with the launch of its first satellite in 1998. It now has 10 satellites in orbit, with eight more under development.

“We will launch another satellite by the end of 2019: the Mezn Sat developed by students at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah and the Khalifa University. This will help measure the presence of methane and carbon dioxide in the UAE’s atmosphere,” said Nasser Al Rashidi, director of policy and legislation at the Agency.

Awareness about space applications

While the UAE is making strides in the sector, the Agency has found a lack of awareness about space applications among local industries.

“We want to increase this knowledge so that companies in non-space sectors — environment, agriculture, and urban planning, for instance — can use space applications to resolve their challenges,” Al Rashidi said.

Space flights

The official also reiterated the UAE’s interest in promoting space tourism. Abu Dhabi Government-owned investment firm, Mubadala, owns a 31.8 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic, the first publicly traded commercial human space flight company.

“We will continue supporting space tourism-related activities while also enhancing the astronaut programme. In fact, a 2018 survey of more than 3,700 young Emiratis found tremendous interest in space flights and capacity building,” Al Rashidi said.