Abu Dhabi Space Debate to define ‘dawn of new space age’

President Sheikh Mohamed and Israeli President Isaac Herzog will attend the conference on December 5 and 6

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A major space conference in Abu Dhabi next month will address the new geopolitics of space and challenges in the sector.

The Abu Dhabi Space Debate, to be held on December 5 and 6, will bring together world leaders, policy-makers, military leaders, heads of space agencies, scientists and engineers.

President Sheikh Mohamed and Israeli President Isaac Herzog will attend the conference in person, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the conference online.

The gathering comes at a time of landmark events in space, including mega-constellations of satellites that are crowding low-Earth orbit and countries increasingly looking to militarise space.

There are also concerns about whether enough regulations are in place as private companies try to commercialise low-Earth orbit and tap into the lunar economy.

The agenda and list of speakers were revealed at a press conference in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said during the briefing that “there is no doubt we are at the dawn of a new space age”.

Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“From two space-capable actors in the world in the 1960s, the Americans and the Soviets, we are now looking at a multilateral world where some 70 nations have space programmes, where private sector players are taking the roles of launch provider, space station builder, satellite funder ― roles previously only in the hands of governments,” she said.

“The challenges we face are inter-linked ― our internationally supported space legislation dates back in many instances to the 1960s, our institutions are not agile enough for today’s world of space capability.

“This is precisely why the Abu Dhabi Space Debate is vital to our development of the space sectors.”

There will also be a session on the space industry and Cop28, which will be held at Expo City Dubai next year.

An investigation into the role of space agreements, such as the Artemis Accords, will also take place.

The accords are a US-led international agreement that outlines responsible space exploration, especially of the Moon.

However, the agreement is not yet legally binding and most of it is a repetition of the UN’s Outer Space Treaty formed in 1967.

Omran Sharaf, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation for Advanced Science and Technology, said there were huge challenges, from “the undermining of multilateralism by vested nationalistic interests through to the democratisation of space and its assets".

“We have to face the facts, we are not currently distributing access to space equally or fairly and we are not encouraging truly inclusive dialogue. Can we overcome this? I believe we can. Will it be simple or easy? I believe it will not,” he said.

The Abu Dhabi Space Debate will be held at the Adnoc Business Centre.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 12:15 PM
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