How Arab countries like Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman built their first satellites

Miniature loads and rideshare missions on rockets have made space affordable

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It has been nearly 40 years since the first Arab satellite, ArabSat-1, was launched into space by a Saudi organisation.

The UAE and Egypt sent satellites — mainly communication ones such as Thuraya-1 and NileSat-101 — in the following years.

But other countries in the region carried out little space activity after that.

Rideshare missions, such as the ones SpaceX offers, and the increasing use of nanosatellites are now giving smaller Arab countries easier access to space.

In the past five years, countries like Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan have launched satellites and Oman also built its first satellite, but was destroyed during a Virgin Orbit launch attempt on Tuesday.

Nanosatellites are miniature satellites developed quickly and at a low cost compared to standard ones.

Rideshare missions allow for multiple nanosatellites to launch on one rocket, bringing down launch costs significantly.

Miniature satellites cost less than Dh2 million to develop and launch, while standard ones can be hundreds of millions of dirhams.

The nanosatellites these Arab countries have launched have mostly been CubeSats — modular satellites that can range from one to multiple units.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s first satellite was a joint project with the UAE Space Agency.

The Light-1 nanosatellite was launched on a SpaceX rocket on December 21, 2021, to study charged particles, known as terrestrial gamma ray flashes.

Students at New York University Abu Dhabi and Khalifa University built the nanosatellite. The team included nine Bahrainis and 14 Emiratis.

“Light-1 marks a milestone in our history as a successful step forward for our kingdom's space efforts and paving the way for Bahrain’s space ambitions,” said Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad, commander of Bahrain’s Royal Guard and secretary general of the Supreme Defence Council, at the time of the launch.

Kuwait

Kuwait’s first satellite, a miniature one called QMR-KWT, was launched on June 30, 2021 on a SpaceX rocket to help students test software code.

It is unclear whether the nanosatellite, built by the OrbitalSpace company, is still operational.

KuwaitSat-1 was launched into space on January 4. Photo: Kuwait news agency Kuna

KuwaitSat-1 was the second Kuwaiti satellite in space and was launched on January 4 on SpaceX Falcon 9.

It was built by students at Kuwait University to test if the on-board camera can be used for attitude determination and control.

Kuwait news agency Kuna said there are plans to develop KuwaitSat-2 for launch in three years.

Oman

Oman's first satellite, the Aman CubeSat, was destroyed on a Virgin Orbit flight on Tuesday — the first orbital launch from UK soil.

The rocket failed to reach orbit after a take-off from an airport in Cornwall.

The 'Cosmic Girl' Boeing Co.  747 launch aircraft, operated by Virgin Orbit Holdings on the tarmac at Spaceport Cornwall, located at Cornwall Airport Newquay.  Bloomberg

The Earth observation nanosatellite would have helped engineers test the possibility of a future satellite constellation.

Oman has ambitious space plans, including building a space research centre for simulation missions and science experiments.

Jordan

In 2018, Jordanian students also built and launched a CubeSat on a SpaceX rocket.

The JY1-Sat was Jordan’s first satellite and carried a video system on board.

However, it is unclear whether the technology is still operational.

UAE

Thuraya-1 was the first satellite launched by the UAE. It was a commercial satellite built by mobile satellite company Thuraya and developed by Boeing.

It was also the Middle East's first telecoms satellite.

DubaiSat-1 was the first remote sensing satellite built by engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and in South Korea in 2009.

The first locally-built satellite, however, did not launch until 2018.

Called KhalifaSat, the observation satellite was against built by space centre engineers.

It is a standard, small size satellite that has been sending back high-resolution images of the UAE and other parts of the world.

MBZ-Sat, an 800kg satellite, will be launched by the UAE later this year and is expected to be the region's most powerful imaging satellite.

20 striking images captured by the KhalifaSat satellite — in pictures

Updated: January 10, 2023, 4:20 AM
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