UAE to develop and launch navigation satellite next year

Two satellites will be developed under a project funded by the UAE Space Agency

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The UAE has announced plans to develop and launch a navigation satellite in 2021, followed by the launch of a more advanced version the year after.

Funded by the UAE Space Agency, the project will be the first one to be carried out at the new Satellite Assembly, Integration and Testing Centre in Al Ain (AIT Satellite Centre).

The facility, which was launched in partnership with Airbus and Tawazun Economic Council, is located at the UAE University’s National Space and Science Technology Centre (NSSTC) and aims to increase the nation’s satellite development capabilities.

"For us, it is a project to develop local capabilities in designing and building the satellite and payload. It is an initial work and several other countries are also trying to develop similar technologies," Dr Khaled Al Hashmi, director of NSSTC, told news agency Wam.

"The satellite project funded by the UAE Space Agency aims for technology demonstration and capability build-up, and not meant for adding a navigation system immediately. We try to select a certain technology, design and develop the satellite and payload here and will own the intellectually property rights.”

The satellites are not meant to replace the existing Global Navigation Satellite Systems, which offers global coverage through four different versions operated by Europe, the United States, Russia and China, as well two regional ones owned by Japan and India.

Navigation satellites help make navigation systems in cars and smartphones possible, and play a major role in the aviation and humanitarian sector.

The main aim behind the initiative is to “develop capabilities in the UAE” and, if successful, the project could be expanded further.

Officials did not reveal the cost of the project or how many Emirati engineers will work towards developing it, however, they will receive training at Airbus facilities in France and locally.

In most of the previous space projects, the UAE has hired firms such as Airbus and Thales Alenia to build and develop satellites for them. Now, the nation is moving rapidly towards producing their own satellites locally.

In 2018, engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai launched their first 100 per cent Emirati-built satellite KhalifaSat.

Today, the satellite provides high-resolution images across various sectors ranging from urban planning, humanitarian and for commercial use.

Most recently it launched its Mars weather satellite, called Hope, on July 20. It was developed by Emiratis with the help of three American universities.

The UAE launched its first satellite, Dubai Sat-1, in 2009 with the help of South Korea. Today, it has 13 operational satellites in space.

Out of the 32 new jobs that the launch of the AIT Satellite Centre will help create, 22 of them will be for Emiratis.

Plans for the centre also include developing communication and hyperspectral satellites, ranging in size between 50 and 250 kilograms, with a goal to commence operations early 2021.

Airbus will manage the procurement, installation and operational qualification required for the equipment needed to build the satellites.

The 813 satellite, which was named after the House of Wisdom in Baghdad under the reign of Al-Ma’mun, is also under development and will move to phase 2 soon.

Once ready, it will help in monitoring climate change.

Launched in 2019 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, the project is being looked after by the space agency as part of the first initiatives under the Arab Space Cooperation Group.

A total of 14 Arab countries are part of the group and will work on joint projects with the Emirates.

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