UAE investment in thriving space sector nearly doubles to Dh40bn since 2015

Commercial spending in the industry has grown about a third in a year

Emirati astronaut Dr Sultan Al Neyadi, Minister of State for Youth Affairs, with Suhail – his trusty space-travelling mascot – in the International Space Station. Photo: Dr Sultan Al Neyadi
Powered by automated translation

The UAE has nearly doubled investment in its space sector in the past nine years, from Dh22 billion ($6 billion) in 2015 to more than Dh40 billion.

A board meeting was held by the UAE Space Agency on Monday, in which members discussed projects, regulations, legislation and investment in the sector.

The rise in investment was made possible due largely to commercial spending in the industry, which surged by 29.51 per cent year-on-year, as well as a 7.73 per cent increase in the sector's overall value.

The first board meeting of the year was chaired by Dr Ahmad Al Falasi, Minister of Education, who was reappointed chairman of the UAE Space Agency this year, having previously replaced Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology.

It was also attended by Dr Sultan Al Neyadi, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and seasoned UAE astronaut.

Investing in the future

“Space investment is an investment in the nation and its children’s future, as this vital sector represents a key driver of innovation and creates new and diverse opportunities for sustainable economic growth," Dr Al Falasi said.

A growing number of related companies are setting up operations in the UAE, which helps to boost investment in the space scene and increase commercial spending.

A dedicated economic zone has been set up to encourage further growth in the industry and 14 companies have started operating there since it was launched in 2022.

The number of government-led projects is also increasing, with a mission to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter also in the pipeline.

The cost of the Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt has not yet been revealed but is expected to be backed by significant input from private companies.

It will be carried out over a 13-year period, with a launch date expected in 2028.

The MBR Explorer, named after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, will study seven asteroids and attempt to land on one.

It will swing by Venus and Mars, in an attempt to capture images and record data of those planets on the way.

International collaboration

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre is also helping to supply Nasa with a science airlock – an airtight room that is used to enter and exit a space station – for its Lunar Gateway programme.

The cost of the project was not disclosed, but an airlock would typically cost about $100 million (Dh367.2 million).

In exchange, an Emirati will fly to the station, although a separate agreement would need to be signed for a UAE citizen to land on the Moon's surface.

Salem Butti Al Qubaisi, director general of the agency, said it plans to continue developing new space exploration projects.

"We aspire to draw in a greater pool of skilled talents, providing them with robust training and fostering the development of their expertise across space sciences and other fields," he said.

"This concerted effort is geared towards ensuring the sustainability and continuous advancement of the national space sector, both in the immediate term and in the long-term.”

Details of the UAE's Emirates Mars Mission, which involved the Hope probe, were also discussed at the board meeting.

UAE's Hope probe reveals secrets of Mars's moon Deimos

A composite image of Mars and its tiny moon Deimos captured by the UAE's Hope probe. It is the first time the far-side of the moon has been observed in such great detail. Photo: Emirates Mars Mission

The spacecraft has gathered more than 4.1 terabytes of data on the Martian atmosphere since it reached orbit in 2021, with the information contributing to more than 270 scientific papers.

It was announced in February last year that the country's Mars mission would be extended by another year.

But the agency could decide to keep the mission going beyond then, depending on budgets and the health of the spacecraft.

Even if the mission ends, the Hope probe has played a major role in helping to shape the country's space programme.

The public-private partnership model used in the project has been adopted to help develop the mission to the asteroid belt.

Updated: April 23, 2024, 1:44 PM