Omani spaceport aims to launch rockets by 2030

Etlaq Space Launch Complex would support suborbital and orbital launches

A rocket takes off from the spaceport in French Guiana, where the European Space Agency launches its satellites. AFP
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Omani officials have laid out plans for the development of the Middle East's first spaceport, which they hope will be operational by 2030.

The commercial spaceport, called Etlaq, is designed to host all sizes of launch vehicles in the port town of Duqm, and would meet US Federal Aviation Administration standards to attract international launch companies.

The National Aerospace Services Company (Nascom), which is overseeing the spaceport, unveiled its plans at the Middle East Space Conference in Muscat, more than a year after initially announcing the project.

Nascom chairman Azzan Al Said told The National that the Etlaq Space Launch Complex was in the planning phase and development would start by 2025, with the spaceport set to become fully operational by 2030.

“The plan is for a large spaceport that will be able to accommodate all sizes of launch vehicles from micro all the way up to large orbital and suborbital,” said Mr Al Said.

“It will comprise of three launch complexes, one which supports medium to large [rockets], another one that is small to medium, and one micro.”

Lifting off from Etlaq spaceport

Companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have considered the Middle East, especially the UAE, to launch their space tourism flights.

But nothing has materialised so far, with reports that US regulations – specifically the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) – restrict American companies from exporting certain technology.

Mr Al Said that Nascom would work towards “removing that barrier” once it starts getting interest from launch companies.

“There are things such as ITAR and safeguard agreements which would have to be put in place between Oman and the United States for them to operate here,” he said.

“It's a regulatory barrier but it's one that's easy to open up discussion on once we actually get interest.”

Ideal location for rocket launches

The port’s equatorial positioning makes it an ideal spot for launches, as the rocket can take advantage of the Earth’s rotational speeds.

“Oman has a unique offering in terms of the inclination and the proximity to the equator,” said Mr Al Said.

“The only other port closer to the equator is the one in French Guiana, but we don't see them as direct competitors because those ones are in completely different hemispheres.

“The other reason that makes Oman attractive for space launches is that [to] the east is the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

"Having that downrange clearance makes it much more favourable and safer for launches to take place without putting people in harm's way.”

Boost for region's space ambitions

The UK's Launch Services Limited was contracted by Nascom last year to develop engineering designs for the spaceport.

Andy Bradford, Launch Services Limited chief executive, told The National that the addition of a spaceport would boost the region's space economy.

“Having a regional spaceport and space launch capabilities is a good thing, and most regions that are developing space economies are looking at that the same way the UK did it,” he said.

“But if it's in the right place and it's attractive, you can attract international business, which is also what they want to do.

“The actual geographical location is really good for putting things into space because it's coastal and you can launch in a number of different directions, which means you can go into a number of different orbits, all of which have different commercial applications.”

The US and Russia have the world's oldest spaceports, dating back to the 1950s.

Companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are using commercial spaceports in the US to launch tourists, astronauts and payloads into space.

China is also emerging as a space power, with several operational spaceports.

The European Space Agency currently uses a spaceport in French Guiana to launch its satellites.

There is also an FAA-licensed spaceport in New Zealand that US company Rocket Lab operates for private orbital launches.

The Indian Space Agency uses a space pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh for its rocket launches.

Updated: January 10, 2024, 9:05 AM