Oman plans to build the Middle East’s first space rocket launch centre this year.
Located in the port town of Duqm, the Etlaq Space Launch Complex, a project by the National Aerospace Services Company, could see its first rocket launch early next year.
However, it will take three years to fully complete the centre.
“We have two main goals with the Duqm launch land: to build a launch centre for commercial, professional and educational rocket users to assemble, test and launch from,” Nascom said.
“The launch centre will be globally accessible for expanding rocket companies, and locally available for educational research programmes.”
Private space companies, such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, have eyed the Middle East, especially the Emirates, for spaceports. But nothing has materialised, even though the UAE's space strategy includes setting up a launch pad for space tourism flights.
Oman’s plans could give a significant boost to the region’s space programmes, as private companies and government agencies could use the pad for orbital launches.
First suborbital launch from Oman
Nascom also hopes to build the first Omani suborbital rocket that would be launched from the complex.
“The rockets will inspire the youth to pursue science and technology and will set a standard for future generations to achieve and surpass,” the company said.
It plans to develop rockets with hybrid-solid engines.
“The solid fuel which we have been testing is much safer and environmentally friendly than the fuels used in liquid engines,” Nascom said.
“The scale of rocket we are developing is comparable to the suborbital rockets which are launched by universities and colleges in the USA, which measure between 3 to 6 metres in length.”
The port’s equatorial positioning makes it an ideal spot for launches, as the rocket can take advantage of the Earth’s rotational speeds.
“Internationally verified studies have identified that Wilayat Al-Duqm’s equatorial positioning places it in the top 5 most efficient rocket launch latitudes in the world,” Nascom said.
“Considering the data, and our own site analysis, we acknowledge the location as an important national asset for Oman which must be developed.
“A national asset as such will continue to increase in importance over the next two decades as global industries look for solutions in space.”
The Duqm Port opened in February as part of Oman’s efforts to diversify its economy and expand its infrastructure.
It was developed in partnership with the Belgium’s Port of Antwerp and received major investment from China.
Oman’s space ambitions
Oman has big plans in space.
It plans to build a space research centre for simulation missions and science experiments in the Duqm district’s Artificial Intelligence Zone.
The project is called the Space Settlement Centre.
Bahiya Al Shuaibi, chief executive officer of Oman’s Global Space and Technology Company, said the centre would help scientists carry out research.
“The project aims to simulate a space environment to study the behaviour of astronauts before joining the actual astronaut flights,” she said.
“It will serve scientists, researchers and those interested in doing experiments in the space sector, artificial intelligence and advanced technology.”
Oman space programme has had a shaky start.
Its first satellite, Aman, was destroyed earlier this year during a failed Virgin Orbit launch.