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There are many opportunities for U.S. exporters in the space sector in the UAE, given the ambitious UAE space program. Opportunities exist in training and education, satellite technologies, digital and ICT solutions, launch services, and many other areas.
The successful UAE Hope mission to Mars demonstrated the UAE commitment to its space program. In July 2020, the UAESA and the MBRSC launched the unmanned “Hope Probe” to Mars to study its climate and atmosphere and this spacecraft successfully entered Mars orbit on February 9, 2021. This successful mission made the UAE the fifth country to send a probe to Mars. The UAE is slated to launch its Rashid lunar rover on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in October 2022, in partnership with Japanese company iSpace. This will mark the first time the UAE has used a U.S. launch vehicle.
The UAE seeks to establish itself as a regional hub for civil and commercial space activities. It launched the UAE Space Agency (UAESA) in 2014, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in 2006 in Dubai.
The UAE Space Agency, which directs the UAE national space program, creates space policy and regulation and supports the development of UAE engineers and scientists. It is expected to generate significant benefits to the country’s economy and human capital. In October 2014, the agency gained membership in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, making the UAE the first Arab country to join. It also signed collaboration agreements with NASA, Japan, and China, and memoranda of understanding with the US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), U.K., China, the National Space Science Agency, Kingdom of Bahrain, Germany, the Algerian Space Agency, Sweden, Canada, Japan, Italy, and Russia.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, founded the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in 2006 when it was integrated with the existing Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology (EIAST).
Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa University opened its new Spacecraft Platform for Astronautic and Celestial Emulation (SPACE) laboratory in 2015, equipped with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), robots, and sensing systems that help to mimic actual conditions in space. UAE University in Al-Ain hosts the National Space Science and Technology Center, focusing on research and development in such areas as CubeSats and Mars atmospheric conditions. The UAE is laying a strong foundation for training Emirati astronauts and professionals in the space sciences.
The UAE achieved a historic milestone with its first astronaut in September 2019 when Mr. Hazaa Al Mansouri traveled on an eight-day space mission to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and returned to Earth aboard a Soyuz-MS 12. The United Arab Emirates doubled the size of its astronaut corps in April 2021 with the selection of two new astronauts to train with NASA, including the first Arab female astronaut.
The UAE has launched and operates several satellites.
Yahsat, a subsidiary of the government owned Mubadala Investment Company, offers a range of communication services including voice, internet, and television to over 150 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, Asia, and Australasia. Yahsat has a fleet of five satellites including three Al Yah satellites in orbit and the Thuraya 2 and Thuraya 3 satellites providing high-performance satellite broadband and Ka-Band. In 2020, Yahsat commenced construction of T4-NGS, the next generation telecommunications system for Thuraya, which is due to be in service by 2024.
MBRSC operates several satellites including DubaiSat-1, launched in 2009, and DubaiSat-2, launched in 2013. The UAE’s first nanosatellite, Naif One, was designed by the MBRSC and the American University of Sharjah and launched in 2017.
KhalifaSat, a remote sensing for Earth observation, was launched in October 2018. KhalifaSat was developed by Emirati engineers as part of the MBRSC’s strategic initiative to inspire innovation and technological advancement. It is the UAE’s most technologically advanced imaging satellite, and it supports sustainable development in the UAE. MBRSC is currently working on the next Generation Earth Observation Satellite, MBZ-SAT, to be launched in 2023.
In June 2016, NASA and UAESA signed a framework agreement to cooperate on aeronautics research and exploration and to use airspace and outer space for peaceful purposes. The scope of the agreement covers space science, operational earth observation and earth science, aeronautics, space operations and exploration, education, technology, and safety and mission assurance.
Under the framework, the agencies also signed an Implementing Arrangement to formalize cooperation on the exploration of Mars. The arrangement establishes a joint steering group to guide discussions about potential future projects that contribute to the exploration of Mars. There was also a human spaceflight agreement signed by NASA and UAESA leadership in October 2018, further deepening bilateral cooperation.
In October 2020, the UAE Space Agency was among the first signatories of NASA’s Artemis Accords at the 71st International Astronautical Congress (IAC). The UAE hosted the International Astronautical Congress in October 2021.
Sir Richard Branson has been working with Abu Dhabi investors since 2009, when Aabar Investments, the Abu Dhabi government-backed investment company, took a stake in Virgin Galactic. In 2014, Branson initiated discussions with Abu Dhabi investors regarding the possible opening of a spaceport in Abu Dhabi. In August of 2020, Mubadala Investment Company reported that it had taken a stake of over 7% in Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.
The Ministry of Economy announced in October 2021 that the UAE government was working with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to bring space tourism flights to the country by exploring the possibility of developing a spaceport in the UAE desert.