Thousands expected to attend world’s largest space conference in Dubai

‘Major announcements’ expected at October’s International Astronautical Congress, the first time an Arab country is hosting the event since its inception in 1950

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Space officials said the UAE is ready to host the world’s largest space conference this October, after the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the event last year.

More than 3,000 visitors are expected in person to attend the 72nd International Astronautical Congress at Dubai World Trade Centre from October 25 to October 29, including heads of space agencies, astronauts and other professionals.

The event organiser, the International Astronautical Federation, said it contacted Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – who made appearances at previous congresses – to attend the event and are awaiting a response. Mr Musk is the founder of Space X, while Amazon chief Mr Bezos has a rocket company called Blue Origin.

The two new Emirati astronauts, Nora Al Matroushi and Mohammed Al Mulla, and the first two astronauts, Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi, will also attend.

Officials from Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and IAF spoke on Tuesday about the event and said major announcements about the UAE space sector were expected.

It is the first time an Arab country is hosting the congress, which began in 1950. Dubai won the bid to host the event in 2016, after submitting a proposal to the IAF.

"For 72 years, this event has mainly been held in the US, Europe and Asia. This is the first time it comes to an Arab country," Salem Al Marri, deputy director general of Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, told The National on the sidelines of the press conference.

“I think that’s very significant for us because it showcases what the UAE has really achieved in the last 20 years.”

Prof Pascale Ehrenfreund, the IAF president, said it was “exciting” that an Arab nation is hosting the event for the first time.

She said the UAE had become an active space country, with many achievements under its belt, including sending the first Emirati astronaut to space, the Hope probe to Mars and an upcoming Moon mission.

"I think everybody is very excited to come here," Prof Ehrenfreund told The National.

“When you’re coming into new regions and have this large space gathering of thousands of people coming from space agencies, the space industry, universities, research organisations, you can also build new co-operations.”

What’s expected at the congress?

The congress will feature themed plenary events, keynote lectures, discussions, workshops, a networking forum and a space science exhibition.

It is also a platform on which partnerships are built and space deals signed, and where space agencies and private companies present new projects or missions.

“When you’ve got these large companies and big space agencies coming, there’s potential for countries to sign agreements and that usually happens at IAC,” Mr Al Marri said.

He said there were also plans for the UAE to make major announcements at the event.

Mr Al Marri encouraged pupils and university students to attend the forthcoming congress open day.

“We get 5,000 people coming locally and globally and they tend to be space professionals, but there is an open day where university students and kids can come in,” he said.

“They can meet the astronauts, participate in sessions, see the exhibitions and learn exciting aspects related to physics and math.

“This would be the perfect time for the youth to see the global space community in one place.”

Covid-19 safety measures

Mr Al Marri said the space centre has been working with health authorities to ensure safety measures are in place.

More than 70 per cent of the UAE population has been inoculated but thousands of visitors from other countries are expected.

“Our objective is that we follow all of the government procedures that are currently publicly outlined,” said Mr Al Marri.

He said safety measures similar to those at the Gulfood and Arabian Travel Market trade fairs would be followed, such maintaining space between exhibition stands and other social distancing protocol.

“We are working very closely with the Dubai World Trade Centre, with our partners in Dubai Tourism and Dubai Health Authority, to make sure that we follow these guidelines,” he said.

Some elements of the congress will be held online, but IAF officials said it will “mainly be an in-person event”.

Registration to attend IAC in Dubai can be done online.

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