The UAE’s Space Data Centre can be a beacon of hope in the face of challenges

Today’s space sector presents a fast-growing opportunity to increase our understanding of climate change

The Mission Control Centre at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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The increasing complexity of the global economy and its interconnected systems is creating a host of challenges, such as climate change and food security, and raising the risk of natural disasters. We, therefore, require novel approaches to data collation and insights to address and mitigate these challenges.

The ability to address them using aggregated and real-time insights into the Earth’s systems, to develop more effective and sustainable solutions, is the need of the hour. This is where the Space Data Centre can play a key role.

Launched by the UAE government last year, the Space Data Centre is poised to transform the way space data is used globally. By providing scientists, public and private entities, start-ups and community members access to satellite data, the Centre will help facilitate the development of new solutions to help us understand and address national and global challenges.

Towards implementing the Centre’s objectives, the UAE Space Agency has signed a partnership agreement with Bayanat, an AI-based geospatial products and services provider, to develop and operate a geospatial analytics platform that is a one-stop shop for satellite imagery and computational and AI-based capabilities. Availability of such a tool is a milestone for strengthening space infrastructure.

Additionally, the Agency has launched the Space Analytics and Solutions (SAS) Programme to stimulate the development of Earth observation downstream applications for tackling sustainability challenges, and to leverage local and international partnerships and investments in the space industry. Surely, it is going to provide an opportunity for start-ups, SMEs and research and development centres to expedite adopting latest technologies for tackling sustainability challenges.

Currently, the SAS programme has been empowering the UAE space ecosystem to provide space-based solutions for a number of challenges, including monitoring greenhouse gases, food security and climate-induced disasters. It is all about democratising the space technologies and high-quality space data.

In line with its projects and initiatives to tackle climate change, the Agency has also signed a co-operation agreement with Planet Labs, a pioneer in Earth data and insights. The partnership aims to construct an innovative “loss and damage atlas”, driven by satellite data.

The atlas aims to leverage the power of satellite data to empower nations to confront the multifaceted impacts of climate change. It also complements the Early Warning Systems initiative launched by the World Meteorological Organisation to enhance early warning systems and mitigate the risks of weather-related events in various countries, all of which are important topics for discussion at Cop28.

With a focus on developing its sustainable space capabilities in research, scientific missions, manufacturing and specialised expertise, the UAE has also launched something called the Sirb synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation project, with its first SAR satellite scheduled for launch in 2026.

The Sirb satellites will be built through a number of partnerships between the public and private sectors together with international players. Submissions are being opened for a range of system integration, development and subsystem construction opportunities as part of the constellation development, launch, operation and commercialisation plan.

Sirb will help not only to bolster the country’s satellite manufacturing and operation capabilities, it also aims to create a group of radar satellites equipped with cutting-edge imaging technology capable of capturing high-resolution images of land use, ice cover and surface changes, as well as following the weather to monitor climate change.

The Sirb project is supported by the UAE’s Dh3 billion ($820 million) space fund, which sets out to grow the nation’s private space sector, and enhances efforts to address climate change, environmental sustainability, disaster response and food security.

It also aims to nurture partnerships with global organisations and offer incentives, through the space economic zones project, to strengthen the UAE’s position as a global hub for talent, investment and innovation.

Today’s space sector is a fast-growing international opportunity that has enormous potential to increase our understanding of the effects of climate change (and opportunities for mitigation) across climate, weather, food and water security and the anticipation, mitigation and response to climate-driven events. We have the opportunity now to collaborate globally and forge partnerships between space-capable nations that truly see the space sector helping to define, refine and build solutions to our most pressing climate challenges.

Space technology will continue to empower individuals and organisations worldwide to harness the power of science in addressing pressing global challenges. By bridging the gap between space science and real-world challenges, the cutting-edge space technology will surely pave the way for a brighter future – a future in which space technology serves as a beacon of hope for humanity’s collective progress.

Published: December 08, 2023, 4:00 AM