Saudi Arabia joins Arab partners to collaborate on space exploration

Author: 
Caline Malek
ID: 
1553640878906767100
Wed, 2019-03-27 01:53

ABU DHABI: The dream of an Arab space agency is one step closer
to becoming a reality, after Saudi Arabia and 10 other countries
signed the first pan-Arab agreement on coordinating national
exploration programs at the Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi last
week.
The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, said
that the group’s first project would be a satellite system to be
built in the UAE.
“I personally believe in Arab talents,” he said on Twitter.
“We called our new satellite ‘813’ in reference to the date
that marked the beginning of prosperity for the House of Wisdom in
Baghdad under the reign of Al-Ma’mun.”
The agreement is unprecedented for the nations involved, whose
levels of technical expertise vary. The first aim of the agreement
will be to bring them all up to an equal level of capability.
“It has taken a while because it needed leadership that was not
there, but the UAE has now provided it,” said Dr. Mohammad
Al-Ramadhan, director of the Research Directorate at the Kuwait
Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. “The initiative will
develop and support the launch of satellites, which will be a gift
to the Arab world, and will give scientists and engineers from Arab
countries the chance to participate. With this fresh impetus and
the opportunities it provides, the future will be different.”
A delegation from the Saudi Space Commission (SSC) was present at
the event, to connect with regional partners and conduct research
for the Kingdom’s own national strategy, which is currently under
construction.
Established in late 2018, the commission’s role is to supervise
and regulate the space sector in Saudi Arabia, working with partner
organizations such as the King Abdulaziz City for Science and
Technology, the Ministry of Defense, universities, the
Communications and Information Technology Commission and the
General Authority for Civil Aviation. The end goal is to make the
sector profitable, eventually contributing to the economy and
creating jobs.
“Arabs have a lot of potential in space exploration, especially
because a large segment of our population, around 60-70 percent, is
very young,” Al-Ramadhan said. “If we can use the revenues from
our oil resources to fund our youth, we will definitely make our
mark.”
The SSC’s national strategy, when published, will span 15 years,
encompassing observation, navigation and communication satellite
systems, human space flight, scientific research and exploration.
It will be presented to the Saudi Council of Ministers for approval
later this year.
“The world is already in an energy transition,” Al-Ramadhan
added. “Countries are moving towards renewable energy, like
hydrogen and solar power, buying electric cars, and we are slowly
shifting away from oil. By diversifying our economy, it will
definitely make a big difference in terms of moving from a reliance
on oil revenue.”
The Kingdom has form in looking to the stars for inspiration —
Riyadh famously put Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud into orbit in 1985,
making him the first Arab in outer space.
According to Sheikha Al-Maskari, chief innovation officer at the
UAE Space Agency, the move to establish a new Arab space group is a
significant moment: “We hope to organize and energize the
regional space sector. We also hope to share knowledge and
expertise to further contribute to humanity’s ongoing quest to
understand the universe in which we live.”
Senior figures from Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon,
Jordan and the UAE met during the event’s second day to discuss
their respective progress. “Morocco started investing in space in
the early 1980s, and one of its strategies was to merge all of its
space programs to a single national agenda,” said Dr Edriss
Al-Haddani, director general of the Royal Center for Remote Sensing
in Morocco. “This will be a good starting point for all Arab
space agencies to improve and develop their capabilities.”
Although Jordan does not have a dedicated space agency yet, the
Royal Jordanian Geographic Center is tasked with updating maps and
forecasts using satellite imagery. “When we talk about space
programs, it has always involved collaboration between different
bodies,” said Brig. Gen. Dr. Awni Al-Khasawneh, director general
of the center.
“Collaboration between Arab countries is crucial to our
collective success. It is a very positive initiative and we, as
Arab countries, should take this opportunity to use all our
resources in the best possible way.”
According to Al-Ramadhan, the most significant challenge facing any
country embarking on space exploration is financial. “You need a
huge budget,” he explained, “so the capabilities or resources
of one country on its own will not be enough. The new initiative
will be the most efficient solution to funding shortfalls, as well
as helping to break the psychological barrier that such a field is
the preserve of (great powers).
“The ultimate objective is not just to send astronauts to space,
but to enhance the scientific and technological capabilities of our
younger generations, who will have a mission to go even further.
Space technology can help us find ways to mitigate climate change,
for instance, while improving the quality of the environment and
the air.”
The natural end point of such collaboration is the establishment of
an official pan-Arab space agency. “The plan is to start
cooperation and to build mutual projects to reach that point of
creating this agency,” said Ghalib Faour, director of the
Lebanese Remote Sensing Center. “Lebanon is a beginner in space,
but we have a lot of potential in our universities, some of which
are ranked among the highest in the region. We just need the
(opportunity) to work on large projects driven by nations like the
UAE.
“We tried many times before to build Arab cooperation for space
exploration, but this is the first time I feel it is serious.
Competition came in the way — 10 years ago, we tried with the
Arab League to launch a constellation of Arab satellites, but we
faced a problem over who would lead it. The UAE is now taking the
lead, though, and they are supporting the rest of us.”
Faour expressed hope that space exploration would help to deliver
sustainable development for Arab countries, especially those
rebuilding after years of strife. “After the war in Lebanon,
during the period of reconstruction, we had a lack of data,” he
concluded. “So remote sensing, for instance, provided data for
land use planning, environmental protection and monitoring of
resources. The benefits greater space exploration will bring are
endless.”

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Source: *FS – All – Science News Net
Saudi Arabia joins Arab partners to collaborate on space exploration