Space is the new frontier for the GCC region as countries are gearing up to launch their own space programs following serious efforts by the United Arab Emirates and pioneering space travel by Saudi Arabia.
Saudi’s latest space race
Saudi plans to allocate 8 billion riyals ($2.1 billion) to boost its space program by 2030 as part of a major economic diversification strategy aimed at attracting foreign investment and create thousands of jobs for young Saudis. The Saudi space sector would receive an initial boost of $533 million. The plan is expected to be unveiled later this year.
“Space is becoming a fundamental sector of the global economy, expected to grow into the trillions of riyals as we go forward,” Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz told Reuters in an interview, revealing the Kingdom’s aspiration to become a global player in the space industry while advancing prospects for generations of Saudi.
The 64-year-old Prince Sultan flew aboard the US Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985, becoming the first astronaut from an Arab or Muslim country in space.
The Saudi space sector’s current return on investment is 1.81 riyal ($0.48) for every one riyal ($0.27) invested, compared with a return of between $1.87 and $5.33 for every riyal invested in the sector in advanced economies.
The Kingdom is a main founder and financier of the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat), launched in 1976, with a 37% stake.
2020’s first meeting of space agency leaders of G20 countries took place this month. The purpose of the virtual meeting was to facilitate a stage on which influential countries can collaborate on future and existing projects revolving around peaceful space exploration, space industry investment, and space science innovation.
Saudi Arabia has launched Ajyal, a future generations program that will seek to build a national base of human capital in the space sector in Saudi Arabia.
OPEC’s third-largest oil producer, the United Arab Emirates, is shooting for the moon as part of its space strategy to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
The UAE will launch by 2024 the first-ever mission of an Arab country to the Moon, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai said recently.
“We are launching the first-ever Arab mission to the moon by 2024. The lunar rover will send back images & data from new sites of the moon that haven’t been explored by previous lunar missions. The gathered data will be shared with global research centers & institutions,” Sheikh Al Maktoum said.
“The rover will be 100% manufactured and developed in the UAE by Emirati Engineers. The UAE will be the fourth country in the world to send a mission to explore the moon. We will continue our contribution to the global pursuit of knowledge for the benefit of humanity,” he added.
The UAE, one of OPEC’s key producers and most influential members, has a National Space Policy aiming to support and protect its national interests and vital industries, and contribute to the diversification and growth of the economy.
In July this year, the UAE sent a historic first mission to Mars, sending the probe Hope, which is expected to arrive on Mars in February next year.
The case for the creation of a Kuwaiti space agency is growing.
Daily Kuwait Times quoted scientist Dr. Hala Al-Jassar, an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at Kuwait University, saying that Kuwait has all of the necessary requirements and needed to create a Kuwaiti national space agency.
“We have the budget, the talents, the expertise, and outstanding graduates from the best universities,” she told the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
Kuwaiti universities are already doing a lot in space. For example, Kuwait University and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science are both part of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) initiative run by the U.S. space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Dr. Jassar also points out that the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) is cooperating with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
“When we start a space program, we will not be starting from scratch,” Dr. Jassar is quoted as saying.
Dr. Bassam A. Al-Feeli, a Program Manager at the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science, stressed that the Kuwaiti government needs to make space a “national priority”.
He believes that a space education program for young Kuwaitis is also essential if Kuwait is to effectively compete in space.
The Gulf region is becoming a global hub for space activities, with active space agencies in Iran, Saudi, and the UAE. Qatar is also active in space through its Es’hailSat commercial communications satellite company, and both Bahrain and Oman are also exploring options on how to protect and advance their interests in space.
The Kuwait Space Rocket (KSR), is a Kuwaiti project to build and launch the first suborbital liquid bi-propellant rocket in Arabia. The project is intended to be the first step towards starting a space industry in the country and a launch service provider in the GCC region.
The project began in January 2018 for conceptual design and planning. The team started the fabrication of KSR-1 in early 2019, and as of January 2020, KSR-1 was fully built.
11 Arab states have launched a regional space collaboration program to curb their reliance on NASA and expand the limited Arab presence in outer space.
The “Arab Space Cooperation Group (ASCG)” aims to give the Arab world a place in the multi-billion-dollar global space industry.
ASCG includes the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and Kuwait.
Its first project, a satellite will help environmental agencies, urban planners and monitor the atmosphere for CO2.