Image is all for Emirati satellite engineers working on DubaiSat

Staff at the Al Khawaneej headquarters of DubaiSat say their jobs are something to be proud of.

Mohammed Bin Neshooq, Associate Research Engineer of the DubaiSat Program, at the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology. Razan Alzayani / The National
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DUBAI // One group of young Emirati engineers think their jobs are out of this world – they work at the headquarters of the organisation that runs Dubai's space programme.

Almost all the staff at Al Khawaneej ground station for DubaiSat-1, the first of a series of Earth-imaging satellites, are UAE nationals.

"This is one-of-a-kind work in Dubai. We are the leader in this technology in the country," Khalid Zowayed said. "We are the first people doing this and I am proud to be one of the few people who work here with satellite technology."

"It's very cool," Mohammed bin Neshooq said. "What makes us excited is just to maintain the performance of the satellite. I'm proud that the project is designed by Emiratis.

"This can prove something to the world – that Emiratis have really good opportunities to use whatever skills they have."

Amel Amin, 24, develops software in the ground-station system development section.

"I like the environment here, people encourage you to develop yourself," he said. "Before I worked here I didn't want to work in a Government section because I wanted to work in a place where I can be challenged and have competition.

"But when I came, I really liked the place. I was surprised that there were a lot of Emiratis who can do things like this and I'm really proud to be working with them."

The nerve centre of the ground station is the control room, which is used to operate DubaiSat-1 and will do the same for its successors.

Operators check the satellite's systems are working properly and receive images downloaded through a large dish outside.

"The room is divided in two," said Mr Zowayed, 25, who graduated from Dubai Men's College.

"One part is used to control the satellite and the other is for receiving and processing images. "We process the images and make them ready for the customer."

Mr Bin Neshooq, 28, who also studied at Dubai Men's College, said: "I work in mission planning – anything related to satellite missions comes to the mission-planning section. We make sure everything goes smoothly.

"We create a set of plans for the satellite and the ground station for programming, uploading files, imaging different parts of the world and downloading images.

"The plans address what the satellite is going to do today, for the whole week or for the whole month, and create a procedure for the satellite to follow automatically after we send them to the operation team."

DubaiSat-1 was launched in 2009. The more advanced DubaiSat-2 is due to blast into space at the end of this year and the even more sophisticated DubaiSat-3 is scheduled to enter service in 2017.

The images are primarily used by Government bodies in the UAE.

The programme is operated by the Emirates Institute for Advanced Science and Technology (Eiast), and the satellites are built in collaboration with the South Korean company Satrec Initiative (SI).

The proportion of Emiratis on the manufacturing programme is increasing with each satellite.

A team has already started work on designing DubaiSat-3 in South Korea and is leading the project, with SI acting as consultant. Eiast was formed by the Dubai government in 2006. A major aim was to enable Emiratis to acquire the skills needed to sustain a long-term spaceprogramme.

"Our number one strategic objective is to develop these technologies in the UAE using as many UAE nationals as possible," said Salem Humaid Al Marri, the assistant director general for scientific and technical affairs. "We are normally a nation that consumes.We buy technology, we don't develop it. So this is a big step for us.

"We want to show the world that the UAE can develop its own space technologies and advance on its own in space."