In an exclusive chat with Sankar Sri Pillai, Naser Alrashedi, Director, National Space Policy and Regulation, UAE Space Agency underlines what the space policy seeks to achieve, while revealing the six objectives governing the UAE National Space Strategy 2030
What is the role of the UAE Space Agency?
The UAE space sector started before the UAE Space Agency was created in 2014, with good achievements in satellite communications with the launch of the UAE’s first satellite, Thuraya 1 happening in 2000, as well as earth observation satellite launches. The need for an efficient and effective organisation to oversee these activities led to the formation of the UAE Space Agency, especially considering the considerable investments being planned for the future by the UAE in this sector. Besides, we did not know what the national priority was for this sector. We required a body that could offer a centralised vision, put together in coordination with all the UAE’s stakeholders from within and outside. The UAE Space Agency was formed to oversee and promote, facilitate, organise and support the UAE’s space activities.
What needs drove the creation of the UAE space policy?
The leadership at the space agency decided at the outset that we would not be regulating for the sake of regulation, so essentially the framework for our policies would need to be an enabler, with two drivers, which are to maximise the benefits from space activity, with R&D for instance seeking the best ways to use space telecommunications back here on earth. The team also constantly poses the question on why the UAE is involved in space, reason being that as long as the team had an answer to the question, it meant we were maximising our benefits from space activities. The other is to keep the growth of the space sector sustainable and consistent, doing something good one time is great, to do it time and again is an achievement.
What does the space policy seek to achieve?
Very simply, the national space policy seeks to maximise the utilisation of space in critical sectors and industries in the UAE. We would like to develop an innovative, competitive and commercial space sector, not relying just on support from the government but also within the industry, through the culture of entrepreneurship and privatisation, In the first of week of September, for instance we celebrated the emergence of two Emirati startups in space technology, dealing specifically in the usage of space data. These are Astra Ion and Farmin. Both use space data gathered from Emirati and global satellites for various purposes. Farmin, for instance uses the data for agricultural purposes, serving both small standalone farms and the country’s agricultural requirements. Essentially, the UAE space policy tries to create a competitive and innovative space industry within the country.
How does space policy govern sustainability in the sector?
The UAE space policy ensures that we remain responsible for our actions in space, that we contribute towards the stability of the space environment and its safety and sustainability. The challenges are many, from managing space debris to frequency challenges (wireless communication is a limited resource and its usage needs to be planned, something that we coordinate with the overseeing authority, TRA, responsible for frequency management in the UAE, who in turn coordinates with the international body in charge of spectrum management, the ITU). The space sector has to be clear about its requirements and our policy, through laws ensures that all stakeholders are aware on where to draw the line.
What are the objectives of the UAE National Space Strategy 2030?
Unlike the policy, the strategy has a timeline. The UAE National Space Strategy 2030 has six strategic objectives, 18 programmes, and 71 initiatives, with a vision to see the UAE as one of the pioneering nations in the field of space. Our leading strategic objective is to have competitive and leading space application services; the second is to advance the country’s R&D and manufacturing capabilities and the third is to inspire scientific space exploration missions. Of the six objectives, these first three tilt more towards the focus areas in space. The remaining ones are enablers, which is to have a high level of space awareness and expertise, or space culture, a sense of national pride in being aware that nothing is impossible to achieve; Number five is to establish effective local and international partnerships and investments; and the last is to adopt an enabling framework and soft infrastructure — includes proper laws, regulations and a licensing regime — to enable businesses to be established quickly and effectively; and the infrastructure itself, or hard infrastructure.
These objectives were approved by the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai in March this year. Our team is in the last stages of designing the final document to release in the public domain.
Does the media play a role in the effectiveness of space policy?
Certain strategies within the space policy cannot be implemented without media support. Hence, having a dialogue with media stakeholders is vital. While space is a driver of the economy, it also drives social development. For best results therefore, you need an effective media to build awareness.