UAE signs landmark deal with US on Moon station and sending Emiratis to lunar orbit

Under the agreement, the Emirates will supply an airlock for Nasa's Lunar Gateway station and gain access for its astronauts

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The UAE has signed a deal with the US to contribute an airlock to a lunar-orbiting station being developed by Nasa, an agreement that will also help Emirati astronauts feature in future Moon missions.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre is to supply the airlock – an airtight room used to exit and enter a space station – to the planned Lunar Gateway station by the end of the decade.

The agreement includes access to the station for UAE astronauts, boosting efforts to send the first Emirati to the Moon's orbit.

Announcing the news on Sunday, President Sheikh Mohamed wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “I was pleased to attend with my brother Mohammed bin Rashid the launch of the UAE’s contributions to the historic Lunar Gateway, which will serve as humanity’s first space station around the Moon.

“Through our long-term investment in space exploration and scientific innovation, the UAE is determined to work alongside its international partners to enable collective progress for all.”

The UAE to send its first astronaut to the Moon's orbit

The UAE to send its first astronaut to the Moon's orbit

In December 2022, The National revealed that the Emirates was working towards getting involved in the Gateway programme by supplying an airlock.

Salem Al Marri, director general of space centre, told The National the deal was a “huge step” for the country's space programme.

“This is an agreement essentially between the US and the UAE, represented by Nasa and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, in which we will be building and procuring a science and crew airlock and potentially for spacecraft docking, for the Gateway programme,” he said.

“The UAE will become a partner of the Gateway programme alongside the other four entities that are contributing and in return, of course, we will then secure flights to the Gateway.”

Once completed, the airlock will be launched on Nasa's Space Launch System rocket.

What is the Lunar Gateway?

Nasa is developing the station on Earth, before beginning assembly in the Moon's orbit this decade.

It is a crucial part of the US space agency's Artemis programme, which aims to build a sustainable presence of humans on the Moon.

Astronauts will use the Lunar Gateway for Artemis missions, before descending onto the Moon's surface using landing modules that SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing.

The UAE-US agreement currently involves only access to the station and a separate agreement would need to be signed for missions on the lunar surface.

Details of agreement

MBRSC is to work with international companies to develop the airlock. The price of constructing it was not revealed, although it could cost as much as $100 million (Dh367.2 million), it has been estimated.

“This is something new that the UAE is embarking on,” said Mr Al Marri. "There's a lot of knowledge that we have but not necessarily knowledge to build something like an airlock.

“So, what we plan to do is work with the international companies – we haven't decided who yet – and work as we always do, which is try to get UAE industry involved.”

Mr Al Marri said the UAE would get “full access” to the station, including involvement in scientific activities that take place on board as well as operational elements.

“We will also get full access to training our astronauts and also there are elements where the UAE would take a very strong position as being one of the main players in building this station,” he said.

“It's a really exciting step for the UAE and to be able to guarantee a mission to the Gateway.”

Which Emirati astronaut will fly to the Gateway?

The UAE currently has four Emiratis in its astronaut corps, any of whom – as well as future members – could be selected for Moon missions.

Mr Al Marri said all four would be trained and assignments for missions would be made later.

Hazza Al Mansouri was the first Emirati to fly to the International Space Station for an eight-day mission in 2019.

Sultan Al Neyadi then embarked on the first extended mission by an Arab astronaut last year, where he also performed the first spacewalk by an Arab.

Nora Al Matrooshi, the first Emirati woman to be selected as an astronaut, and Mohammed Al Mulla are expected to graduate from a Nasa training programme this month and will become eligible for space missions.

Boost for UAE's space programme

New space nations such as the UAE have the opportunity to play a crucial role in newer, more advanced projects that would give them more access to space.

The ISS, which has been operating since 2000, was made possible through the space agencies of various partners, including the US, Russia, Canada and some European nations.

But it was mostly astronauts from those partner countries who had the majority of access to the ISS.

Other international partners of the Lunar Gateway include the space agencies of Europe, Canada and Japan.

The European Space Agency is set to contribute habitation and refuelling modules and lunar communications to the Gateway.

Canada signed an agreement with Nasa to provide advanced external robotics.

Japan is scheduled to provide life-support capabilities and additional space where the crew will live, work and conduct research during Artemis missions.


Nasa administrator Senator Bill Nelson wrote on X: “Today, we announced the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre will provide the Crew and Science Airlock for Nasa’s Gateway programme, humanity’s first space station that will orbit the Moon.

“This is an exciting moment for international collaboration in the cosmos and the future of human space exploration.”

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, said: “We congratulate our leadership, our people, and the Arab world as the UAE joins the development of the Gateway Lunar Space Station, alongside the USA, Japan, Canada, and the European Union.

“This project stands out as one of the most significant international endeavours in space exploration in the 21st century.

“As an integral part of this project, the first Emirati and Arab astronaut will journey to the Moon upon the project’s completion in 2030.

“My team at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre will be responsible for designing, developing, and operating the Emirates Airlock, which is the access point between the Gateway Lunar Space Station's pressurised cabin and the vacuum of space.

“Through this project, the UAE will play a vital role in bringing humans back to the Moon after a gap of over 50 years.

“The Gateway will serve as a launchpad for spacewalk missions around the Moon and future missions to Mars, embodying the spirit of Sheikh Zayed’s ambition and the boundless aspirations of our nation that knows the impossible is possible.”

UAE space mission – in pictures

Updated: March 13, 2024, 1:07 PM