MBZ-Sat: new satellite will boost UAE’s knowledge-based economy

The satellite will launch in 2023 and will offer commercial and civilian services

Japan's rocket H-2A is launched, carrying aboard a green gas observing satellite "Ibuki-2"  and KhalifaSat, a UAE satellite, Tanegashima, southern Japan, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. The Japanese rocket carrying United Arab Emirates' first locally-made satellite has successfully lifted off from a space center in southern Japan. (Nozomi Endo/Kyodo News via AP)
Powered by automated translation

Space officials in the UAE are hopeful the coming Earth-observation satellite, MBZ-Sat, will contribute to the country's knowledge-based economy.

Most of the satellite’s parts will be acquired through UAE-based companies this time, instead of international companies.

MBZ-Sat, named after Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, will be three times more efficient than KhalifaSat – the first UAE-built satellite, launched in 2018.

The satellite will be three metres by five metres and will weigh about 700 kilograms.

“Our aim is to work with different companies in the UAE that will provide components and technologies from mechanical, electronics and software, for the satellite,” said Amer Al Sayegh, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre’s senior director of space engineering.

“This will push forward the knowledge-based economy and a more sustainable space programme in the UAE because we’d be promoting these industries.”

Mr Al Sayegh told The National the partnerships would give UAE's commercial space industry a boost, because the firms would eventually become capable of taking on more local and international space projects.

Previous Emirati satellites were built with components procured internationally, including KhalifaSat's solar panels, which are by Italian company Leonardo.

DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 were built in South Korea by Emiratis and South Koreans.

These Earth-observation satellites have been providing images to federal government departments and international customers for several years.

But, now, the space centre wants to improve image quality and download speed to supply content more efficiently to customers.

They have partnered with ground networks to offer 24-hour coverage, meaning images can be downloaded at any time or any place even if the satellite is not over the coverage area.

“We have worked a lot on the commercialisation capability of this satellite,” Mr Al Sayegh said.

“Our customers usually look for better quality images, but also faster response time. We are looking at automation of all of the processes – all the way from requesting to receiving an image.”

KhalifaSat’s download speed is 320 megabytes per second and MBZ-Sat’s will be 1.2 gigabytes per second – three times faster.

The camera resolution will be twice that of KhalifaSat’s.

The quick turnaround will also help during humanitarian disasters.

The space centre provides free visuals to countries and relief organisations during disasters such as the Beirut Port explosion this year. The moments when a massive iceberg broke off in Greenland and the deserted airports around the world during Covid-19 lockdowns were also captured by Emirati satellites.

"Catastrophic events around the world are not timed, so you never know when they will happen," Mr Al Sayegh said.

“But we do try to have as much accessibility to our satellite [KhalifaSat] as possible to take that image and download it. Sometimes it works and, at times, it comes after a day or three days – it depends on the location of the satellite

“Now, we will have access to the satellite [MBZ-Sat] and we will improve download and imaging speed.”

UAE's space investments now exceed Dh22 billion – a reflection on how the country is preparing for a post-oil era. There has been a greater focus on the knowledge-based economy, and sectors such as space, tech, science and food security.

The UAE Space Agency has worked with the federal government to introduce space laws to encourage local and international businesses, including start-ups, to invest in the space sector.

Space agencies around the world are moving towards a commercial model for sustainability.

US space agency Nasa is now launching crewed missions to the International Space Station from Florida again through private partnerships with SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

UAE's landmark mission to Mars – in pictures