Saudi Arabia in talks over plans for next-generation space stations

Saudi space official lays out ambitions for commercial ventures among the stars

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Saudi Arabia is in talks with other nations over plans for the next generation of space stations, which could one day serve as floating hotels among the stars.

Mohammed bin Saud Al Tamimi, governor of the Communications, Space and Technology Commission, said he sees space commodities as a “huge opportunity”.

He was speaking remotely on the first day of the Abu Dhabi Space Debate, a major conference that addressed the new geopolitics of space and emerging trends.

Mr Al Tamimi said that the Kingdom would be announcing its national space strategy early next year.

“We’ve heard lots of initiatives from the private sector, not only from a scientific point of view, we also hear about commercialisation of space station,” he said.

“We hear lots of announcements by multiple companies regarding space tourism and building a hotel as a space station, becoming like a commodity.

“For me, I see there is a huge opportunity. This is the right time in history of space where we can see real commercialisation of space.”

“And also there's more collaboration and active discussions right now between us in Saudi Arabia and other countries when it comes to building a new model for space stations.”

Companies such as Blue Origin, Nanoracks and Axiom Space have announced plans to build a station in low-Earth orbit.

These structures would be open to tourists, researchers and government astronauts.

Commercialisation of low-Earth orbit is gaining momentum, as the International Space Station - a science laboratory operated by different space agencies - nears retirement.

And as Saudi Arabia tries to revive its space programme, the Kingdom is hoping to tap into these new opportunities.

The Kingdom sent the first Arab astronaut to space in 1985, when Prince Sultan bin Salman flew aboard Nasa’s Discovery space shuttle as part of a seven-member international crew.

In September, Saudi Arabia announced a new human spaceflight programme.

Two Saudi citizens, including a female, are scheduled to fly to the International Space Station in May as part of a private flight, organised by Houston-based company Axiom Space.

If this goes as planned, the Saudi woman will be the first Arab female in space.

“We are looking for more partnerships in the coming future,” said Mr Al Tamimi.

“We already joined the Artemis Accords a few months ago and we started our human spaceflight programme.

“When it comes to scientific breakthrough, we have multiple partnerships… that will be announced by the private sector.”

Saudi Arabia’s signing of the Artemis Accords – a US-led international agreement that outlines peaceful exploration – signifies that the Kingdom is looking to explore the Moon.

The agreement has been signed by more than 20 countries so far, as many look to land astronauts, landers and rovers on the lunar surface, as well as utilise lunar resources.

In 2020, Saudi Arabia allocated $2.1 billion for its space programme under its Vision 2030 economic diversification plan.

The Saudi Space Commission was established in 2018 with the aim of driving growth in the sector.

The commission has held meetings with a number of space agency partners to increase co-operation, including the US, China and the UK.

Turkey also signed a deal with Axiom Space to send the first Turkish astronaut to space in 2023.

Updated: December 05, 2022, 3:30 PM