With the issuance of one resolution this past April, His Highness Vice President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in his capacity as the Ruler of Dubai, established the Mohamed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). Thus, the United Arab Emirates has proved once again to be unparalleled visionaries with not only the money, but also an incredible prowess for realizing their visions. With their sights set on sending an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021 (although the actual launch is slotted for 2020), to coincide with the country’s 50th anniversary, and having the money to back the initiative, the UAE is well on track to establishing itself as a leader not only in the space industry in the Middle East, but a major player in the global space industry.
The MBRSC is affiliated with the 10-year old Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) and its role will be to develop research, projects and studies on space with a view towards supporting the UAE’s ambitions in the space sector, both in terms of developing a national space industry and reaching Mars. Specifically, the MBRSC will be responsible for overseeing the Mars-exploration probe mission as well as its implementation. But the MBRSC is not just about facilitating the Mars mission, its modus operandi is to develop the country’s science, satellite and other advanced technologies. To this end, the UAE has already committed 20 billion Dirhams ($5.44 billion) into the space industry. As a mark of national pride and participation, HH Sheikh Maktoum has engaged his citizens and residents in the Mars project by calling on UAE residents via Twitter to suggest names for the Mars probe. The Mars mission is quite an ambitious project given that the target launch date is a mere six years away, not to mention that the probe itself will have to be capable of travelling the more than 60 million kilometers over nine months. The UAE’s Mars probe elevates the UAE to one of nine countries in the world whose space programs include probing Mars.
The UAE’s satellite and space ambitions do not seem to be just an expensive and self-indulgent exercise (although the space industry is an inherently expensive one). Rather, it seems to be a commitment not only to the UAE’s future but to the future of all of humanity.
Hardly a Novice
The UAE is hardly a novice when it comes to the space sector and it has already distinguished itself in the satellite industry in a relatively short time. Its achievements are impressive given the UAE’s humble beginnings and relatively small size. Specifically, the UAE owns Thuraya Satellite Communications, a mobile satellite services provider, and Al Yahsat Satellite Communications (Yahsat).
Additionally, this May, the UAE hosted the fifth Global Space and Satellite Forum (GSSF 2015) that bought together key regional and international stakeholders and decision makers from the space and satellite industry.This year’s GSSF 2015 was moved from Dubai to Abu Dhabi to commemorate the opening of the UAE Space Agency. The GSSF 2015 is a testimony to the UAE’s commitment to the space sector but also to its position of thought leadership in the space sector within the MENA region.
Despite the GCC’s oil and gas wealth, the UAE’s economic strategy is one that aims for diversification and the establishment of a knowledge-based economy. By focusing on the space sector, the UAE’s secondary and tertiary education will necessarily facilitate developing Emirati space specialists. In participating in the so-called “space race” for Mars, the UAE is at once throwing its hat into the space industry arena with other serious global players while also contributing to the development and advancement of not only the Emirates but to all of humanity by focusing their energies on the multi-faceted aspects of the space industry. Given the UAE’s proven ability to realize their ambitious goals in the past, it will be very exciting, and no doubt instructive, to watch the UAE not only reach for but actually touch the stars. VS