The UAE's ambitious mission to explore the asteroid belt and complete a fly-by of Venus is a new and critical phase of the national space programme, the country’s Mars mission director Omran Al Sharaf said.
He said the project would test how well the UAE’s space team can transfer the knowledge gained from the Mars project to the private sector, helping to boost the national economy.
Last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced a five-year exploration mission to the main asteroid belt, an asteroid landing and a Venus fly-by. A target launch date is set for 2028.
Space project will boost the economy
Speaking online at the Mars Society Convention on Thursday, Mr Al Sharaf said the endeavour would support small and medium businesses.
“It's a new and critical phase in the UAE space programme because one of the biggest challenges is how we can ensure that the knowledge that we've gained through the Mars and previous missions is properly given to the private sector,” he said.
“Because, ultimately, this is about serving our economy and addressing our environmental challenges.”
The new mission will be the most challenging one yet undertaken in the UAE’s space programme, with a total journey of 3.6 billion kilometres – seven times the distance the Hope probe travelled to reach Mars in February 2021.
Still in its concept phase, the mission involves a Venus and then an Earth fly-by for gravity assist manoeuvres to reach the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter – known as the main asteroid belt.
The spacecraft, which has not been named yet, would fly past seven asteroids and attempt a landing on the last one. The mission’s science objectives will be announced later.
Emirati companies in the private sector would be given a priority on contracts for mission development.
The efforts are part of the country’s new national space strategy, which focuses on establishing a private space sector that contributes to the economy.
For decades, national space programmes were government-run, but now more space agencies are looking to private companies to increase capabilities.
Space sector can help UAE address challenges
Mr Al Sharaf said the economy depends heavily on technology and the mission would help to address challenges the country faces.
“The way we address our national challenges when it comes to food and water security is that we use imported technologies,” he said.
“We need to be able to build customised technologies or solutions that serve and are based on our environment, so this will be the focus of the next phase of the UAE’s space programme.”
The UAE’s mission to Mars was carried out together with Emirati engineers and three US universities.
For the latest mission, the country is teaming up with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, again.
In an exclusive interview with The National, UAE space chief Sarah Al Amiri had said the space sector would have a direct impact on the national economy in the next five years.
The Minister of State for Advanced Technology and chairperson of the UAE Space Agency said the goal was to make the country a regional hub for the development of spacecraft systems, after establishing a private space industry.
“Most of the current space sector within the Emirates is focused on government spending and programmes across local and federal governments,” she said.
"Today, we're talking about a space sector that has an indirect impact on the economy. In five years, we want to see a space sector that has both an indirect impact on the economy, society, and also a direct impact on the economy."