UAE will 'learn from setbacks in space missions'

Failure can provide valuable lessons to young people, says Dr Ahmad Al Falasi, on the space agency's fifth anniversary

The risk of failure in the space industry is always high but even if Emirati projects falter, there are always lessons to be learnt, the chairman of the UAE Space Agency said.

The country chose to enter the sector to shape the skills of its young people in all fields, Dr Ahmad Al Falasi said on Monday as the agency celebrated its fifth anniversary.

"We chose difficult missions because it is in difficult missions that skills are shaped," Dr Al Falasi said.

Less than a week after a rocket carrying a UAE satellite failed to lift off from its launch site in South America, Dr Al Falasi said there was always a 5 per cent chance of failure and that the risks increase as satellites orbit Earth.

“The space sector always includes challenges, but we like challenges and we don’t take on easy missions,” he said.

“And at the end of the day, it is a gain for our youth.”

Last week, the UAE's fourth reconnaissance satellite, FalconEye1, was lost when the Vega rocket carrying it developed a fault.

Despite the loss, preparations to launch a second satellite, FalconEye2, are under way, the state news agency Wam reported.

A launch date has yet to be announced by the Armed Forces, which are overseeing the mission.

The UAE plans to carry out its first mission to Mars in 2021 to mark the country's 50th anniversary.

"We hope the project will work but even if it doesn't, the gain is deploying youth talents in such projects," said Dr Al Falasi, who is also Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills.

"If the space sector did not have risks, all countries would have entered it." 

Lissy Donald, managing director of Compass International, a company that has worked with the agency for two years on training and teaching the Nasa curriculum, said she was optimistic that the second launch attempt would work.

“Failure is always the path to success," Ms Donald said. "The fact that we tried is a big step and we will make it the second time for sure because we learnt what could have been the reason.”

She said more planning was needed to ensure success the next time around.

The focus is on teaching young people about space and encourage them to pursue careers in the field and further the UAE's ambition to establish the first inhabitable human settlement on Mars by 2117, said Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the agency.

“Any programme without qualified skills won’t work, so we are focusing on qualifying the coming generations," Dr Al Ahbabi said.

“We are talking about a 100-year project. We are also looking at the legislative aspect. We are setting laws for the future.”

The UAE recently formed a committee responsible for detecting astronomical bodies hurtling towards Earth. These could include meteors or the remains of spaceships or other "space junk".

"We have a method to detect space threats. It happened before that a space body entered Russia," said Dr Al Ahbabi, referring to an unmanned Russian cargo spacecraft that burnt up after it entered Earth's atmosphere in 2015.

"The UAE is keen on not letting such risks reach its territory, so all the skies are monitored."