UAE astronauts eye missions and satellite lift-offs in 2024

Launch of the region's most advanced satellite and a private space sector boost is in store for the Emirates

Sultan Al Neyadi and Suhail – the MBRSC mascot – on the International Space Station on March 17, 2023
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The UAE in 2024 will reach for the stars once more in the global space race with the launch of the Arab world’s most powerful satellite and the addition of two Nasa-trained Emirati astronauts.

In 2023, the country enjoyed its busiest year in space, and the new year promises much for the burgeoning sector.

Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who returned from his six-month mission aboard the International Space Station in September, will be continuing his outreach activities this year as he builds on his stellar accomplishments.

The Rashid rover may have crash-landed on the lunar surface in April, but engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) will develop designs for a new rover, Rashid 2, in 2024.

With more space activities in store for the UAE, The National takes a look at some of the key events to look out for.

MBZ-Sat satellite

MBRSC is expected to launch the MBZ-Sat satellite next year.

Named after President Sheikh Mohamed, the 800kg satellite will be carried into orbit as part of a SpaceX ride-share mission on a Falcon 9 rocket.

It is the region’s most advanced Earth-imaging satellite and will monitor environmental changes, water quality and assist in agricultural development.

MBZ-Sat is expected to be three times more powerful than KhalifaSat, an Emirati-built satellite in operation since 2018.

The space centre hopes to support the domestic space industry through this mission, with 90 per cent of the mechanical and 50 per cent of the electronic modules for MBZ-Sat built in the Emirates.

Emirati astronauts ready for missions

The UAE’s newest astronauts, Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla, are scheduled to graduate from a training programme at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, in early 2024.

They will become eligible for US-led missions once they complete the programme.

Ms Matrooshi, 30, a mechanical engineer, is the first Emirati woman to be selected as an astronaut.

She and Mr Al Mulla, 35, a former Dubai Police helicopter pilot, have been training in Houston since 2021, shortly after they were selected to be part of the UAE’s astronaut corps.

Private space sector boost

More companies are expected to join the UAE Space Agency’s efforts to launch a spacecraft to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The agency launched the Space Means Business campaign to encourage the private sector to get involved with the Emirates Mission to the Main Asteroid Belt.

Companies would help develop the MBR Explorer, which is expected to launch in 2028.

In 2024, more contracts between the agency and companies could be signed as the campaign gains momentum.

Lunar Gateway

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson had said in December to “stay tuned” to an announcement regarding Emirati astronauts potentially flying on future Artemis flights to the Moon.

Artemis is a programme by Nasa that aims to send astronauts to the lunar surface this decade.

The discussions between the US space agency and the UAE could also include the Emirates contributing an airlock to the Lunar Gateway, a small station that Nasa is planning to put into lunar orbit.

The National reported previously that the UAE had expressed interest in providing an airlock for the station.

If a deal goes through, Emirati astronauts could get easier access to the lunar station.

Record-setting 2023 for UAE space sector - in pictures

Updated: March 13, 2024, 1:07 PM