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There are opportunities for U.S. exporters in the aerospace sector to support the civil aviation and defense aerospace initiatives in the UAE, and in the space segment given the ambitious UAE space program.
The UAE is committed to establishing 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. In July 2020, the UAESA and the MBRSC launched an unmanned probe spacecraft that will orbit Mars and study its climate and atmosphere.
The UAESA, which directs 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 U.K., Italy, and Russia.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President 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).
The UAE achieved a historic milestone with its first astronaut in September 2019,. 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 UAE is recruiting future astronauts and will begin the selection process for astronauts that will undergo a 2.5-year training. Astronaut training solutions are an area of opportunity.
Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa University opened its new Spacecraft Platform for Astronautic and Celestial Emulation (SPACE) laboratory in 2015. The United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (represented by the ICT Fund) fund the $27 million SPACE center. The lab is equipped with special Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), robots, and sensing systems that help to mimic actual conditions in space.
The UAE has launched and is operating a number of satellites.
Yahsat, a subsidiary of the UAE Government-owned Mubadala Development, offers a range of communication services including voice, internet and television. Yahsat currently has two satellites in orbit and launched a third in 2018, the Al Yah 3 satellite. Al Yah 3 will extend Yahsat’s broadband services to 19 countries across Brazil and Africa.
The MBRSC operates several satellites:
DubaiSat-1 was the first fully UAE-owned satellite. It was launched in 2009 by EIAST, which, as noted above, was rolled into MBRSC in 2015.
DubaiSat-2 blasted off in 2013.
KhalifaSat, a remote sensing for Earth observation, was launched in October of 2018. KhalifaSat was 100% 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 has the goal of increasing sustainable development in the UAE. The UAE Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) in collaboration with Satrec Initiative (SI), a South Korean satellite manufacturing company, oversee the KhalifaSat program.
UAE’s Thuraya, a private company with investors from the United States, U.K., and the Middle East, launched its first mobile telecommunication satellite, Thuraya-1, in 2000.
2016 NASA and UAESA Framework Agreement
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 in 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.
Additionally, the two agencies plan to collaborate on education and public outreach programs and joint workshops, with the goal of facilitating the exchange of scientific data, scientists, engineers, and views and experiences on relevant regulatory frameworks and standards.
Future areas of collaboration could include the joint use of aircraft; scientific instruments aboard spacecraft; ground-based research facilities; spacecraft and space research platforms; and ground-based antennas for tracking, telemetry, and data acquisition. The United States and the UAE also plan to collaborate on lunar exploration and are looking at how the UAE can support with the Artemis Accord.
The UAE is tentatively hosting the International Astronautical Congress in October 2021. In addition, the World Expo in Dubai will include programming about space.
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, his space venture. According to Branson, Aabar has a 35% stake in the business, valued at about $300 million. In 2014, Branson and Abu Dhabi investors initiated discussions regarding the possible opening of a spaceport in Abu Dhabi. In the interim, UAE officials have indicated this project will help the emirate develop its nascent space sector.
According to the UAE newspaper The National, the UAESA and Boeing partnered on an initiative called “The National Space Program”. The program features two competitions: Genes in Space, in which students from across the UAE will compete for the opportunity to have their experiments launched into space and conducted by scientists on board the International Space Station; and the Satellite Launch project.