UAE to take centre stage at global space conference in Russia this week

The Global Space Exploration Conference in St Petersburg will be the first major gathering of space agencies since the start of the pandemic

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The head of the UAE's booming astronaut programme and the country's first man in space will take part in an in-person global conference in Russia this week, setting out missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The Global Space Exploration Conference (Glex) will involve heads of space agencies from around the world.

Hazza Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first astronaut, is expected to speak during a plenary session with other astronauts and scientists.

Salem Al Marri, head of the astronaut programme and deputy director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, will also participate and discuss challenges of lunar exploration.

Organised by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the event will take place in St Petersburg from Monday until Friday.

“This first in-person conference since the beginning of the global pandemic shows the evidence of the great interest there is for space exploration,” said Pascale Ehrenfreund, president of IAF.

“After the United States in 2012, and China in 2017, the IAF is proud to offer the space community and the greater public, the unique opportunity to gather again in Russia, another leading nation in space exploration, for the third edition of the Global Space Exploration Conference.”

The National's Sarwat Nasir will be covering the event live from Tauride Palace in St Petersburg. Here's what to expect.

UAE’s blossoming space programme

With the UAE becoming an active player in space exploration, it is likely to become a regular fixture at global space events.

On June 15, Mr Al Mansouri is scheduled to speak during a plenary session titled ‘60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight’. Other experts include Nasa astronaut Mike Baker and cosmonaut Alexandar Alexandrov.

During a ‘high-level space leaders’ panel, Mr Al Marri will share insights into the UAE’s space programme, including current and future plans.

The UAE has already sent an Emirati into space, a spacecraft around Mars orbit and there are plans to launch a small robotic rover to the Moon in 2022.

There are also ambitious plans to build a city on Mars by 2117.

Nasa’s new administrator Bill Nelson will participate in the panel remotely.

Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin will speak in-person, as well as Turkey’s space agency head Serdar Huseyin Yildirim.

Adnan Al Rais, programme manager of Mars 2117, will give the highlight lecture on June 17.

He is expected to share some of the country’s upcoming projects, including a Space Venture programme, the UAE Analog Mission – which involves an Emirati living in isolation for several months as part of a space simulation project – and give updates on the Mars Science City and lunar mission.

Dubai will host the next big IAF event in October. The world's largest space conference, the International Astronautical Congress will take place at the World Trade Centre.

Russia puts ISS future on agenda

Russian space agency Roscosmos is the local organising committee of the conference, which is being held in a landmark year for the nation's proud history in space.

In April, Russia celebrated the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin, the cosmonaut who was the first person in space.

Roscosmos is expected to discuss the future of the International Space Station, which has been operational since 2000 through a joint international effort by Russia, Nasa, the European Space Agency, Japan and Canada.

However, the Russian space agency recently announced plans of exiting the space station and building an independent one.

Mr Rogozin said last week that it would consider not building one of its own if the US lifts the sanctions placed on the space agency.

"The ball is in the court of our American partners. If sanctions against the Progress Rocket and Space Center and TsNIIMash remain in place, the issue of Russia’s withdrawal from the ISS is a problem for American partners. It will be their zone of responsibility," he said.

“Either we are working together and then sanctions should be lifted immediately, or we won’t work together and then national systems will be deployed.”

China to discuss bold plans

Chinese space officials will attend the conference remotely.

Yanhua Wu, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, will speak during a ‘high-level space leaders’ panel, alongside the Indian space agency chairman, president of JAXA and Mr Rogozin.

They will tell of their enterprising plans for the future.

China has a probe that is orbiting Mars and a rover on the surface. Its Chang’e-5 mission returned Moon samples from the lunar surface last year.

The country is building a space station, with the core stage already in orbit. Chinese astronauts are expected to launch into space this month.

China has partnered with Roscosmos to build the International Lunar Research Station.

A roadmap for the construction of the station is expected to be revealed during one of the plenary sessions on June 16, as well as the main stages of implementation.

Earlier this month, both space agencies called on other nations to join the project.

In another plenary session, Xiaojun Wang, president of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, is scheduled to discuss China’s future deep space exploration plans and share details of ongoing missions.

Nasa to outline Mars successes

Several Nasa officials will also be participating in the conference.

Lori Glaza, director of Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division at Nasa, and her colleagues will discuss the Perseverance mission.

Nasa landed one of its most advanced rover, called Perseverance, on the Martian surface earlier this year. Ingenuity, a small helicopter, hitched a ride with the rover and has accomplished several flights.

The panel will discuss the mission’s milestones and upcoming science plans, including Mars sample return and human exploration.

Other leading Nasa figures who will speak at the event remotely include Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.

Some of the other plenary sessions will involve speakers from private space companies, such as Airbus and Lockheed Martin.

Topics will include building a Moon economy and the infrastructure required for deep space missions.

The full agenda is available online.

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