The UAE government is working with Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin to bring space tourism flights to the country, the Ministry of Economy has announced.
On Tuesday, The National revealed that the space tourism company was interested in setting up a spaceport in the UAE desert for suborbital flights.
Abdulla bin Touq, Minister of Economy, held a meeting with Blue Origin’s vice president Brent Sherwood this week at the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai.
They agreed to develop a plan that would accelerate the ministry’s ambition for economic development through space activities, including space tourism.
“The ministry is working with its partners to establish an open economic ecosystem that attracts investments to target sectors and stimulate innovative companies to support sustainable development and create an advanced investment environment,” Mr bin Touq said.
“Through this collaboration, we look forward to leveraging Blue Origin’s leading expertise in space manufacturing and space and low Earth orbit flight services to support the UAE’s plans.
“We are also keen to expand the scope of our partnerships with Blue Origin to build and develop space tourism and enhance the national efforts in this respect.”
Blue Origin has sent eight people into space so far through its New Shepard missions, including Star Trek actor William Shatner, who became the oldest person in space, aged 90.
Now, the space tourism company is searching for other locations around the world to set up spaceports.
Mr Sherwood told The National that the UAE was an “obvious choice” and that there were discussions taking place.
“It’s an obvious place to look here. All we really need is some desert. One of the enduring qualities of the West Texas desert is that it is hard to get to the El Paso airport. You have to drive for a couple of hours and it is in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
“A couple of nights ago I slept over in Sharjah and did some stargazing in the desert. It was only 30 minutes away from Dubai, so I think it’s very promising to think about areas here.”
The UAE’s new space strategy involves creating an economic impact by going into partnership with private companies, as well as research and development in space.
The space sector’s added value in the UAE — the direct and indirect economic impact from the sector’s products and services — has reached Dh3 billion, according to the Ministry of Economy.
So far, the UAE has made Dh22 billion worth of investments in space.
Figures show the sector provides more than 3,200 jobs, with 57 space companies and organisations operating in the country.
These include five space science research centres and start-up companies.
The UAE’s total foreign trade in aerospace vehicles and their parts has reached Dh190 billion.
“Today, the UAE is home to several major space companies, offering excellent opportunities to start-ups in capitalising on the potential of operating outside the Earth’s orbit. We will move forward with our efforts to attract the companies operating in this field to become partners in driving growth and advancement of UAE’s space economy,” Mr Al Marri said.
AzurX is a private company in Dubai that is working as a strategic adviser to Blue Origin, and it will act as a bridge between the UAE and the space tourism company.
Anna Hazlett, chief executive of AzurX, told The National that it would be helping Blue Origin with its localisation strategy in the UAE, and would assist customers with space tourism flights and opportunities on Orbital Reef — a new private space station announced by Blue Origin on Monday.