ESA on way to Cop28 to discuss more space co-operation with UAE

Agency director general Josef Aschbacher tells The National that he wants collaboration on climate change monitoring

A satellite image shows smoke from wildfires in western and central Canada in September. The ESA and UAE may discuss co-operation in the Earth monitoring Copernicus project next month. Reuters
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Josef Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency, has told The National that he will be going to the Cop28 summit in Dubai next month to discuss expanding co-operation with the UAE that may involve climate change monitoring.

The UAE Space Agency and ESA, an inter-governmental space agency with 22 member states including non-EU countries such as Norway and the UK, have worked together before.

The ESA has four international partners when it comes to Earth observation: Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and the African Union.

Should a deal be struck at the UN international climate negotiations, it would be the first between the ESA and an Arab country.

“I see the UAE as a very important emerging space power,” Mr Aschbacher said on Sunday. “I would like to explore further elements of co-operation.”

At Cop28, ESA will be putting forward a flagship joint programme with the European Commission called Copernicus, which monitors changes in the land, sea, and atmosphere for security and climate change purposes.

“We have to see what the UAE’s interests are on climate change, but certainly, from the European perspective, it is fair to say that we have one of the strongest space programmes using Earth observation data for climate change activities,” said Mr Aschbacher.

“We are in a bit of an exploratory phase to see what could be the next activities in which we work together.”

Bilateral climate observation partnerships are tailored to each country’s needs.

Data provided by Copernicus can be used to monitor the impact of climate change but also in other sectors such as agriculture monitoring, water management, disaster management and ship routing.

ESA describes it as “taking the pulse of the planet”.

“Countries bring in their local knowledge so that the data can be used cleverly,” said Mr Aschbacher. “In some cases, co-operation emerge in developing satellites or hardware infrastructure ground segments.”

ESA has co-operated several times with the UAE, including with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre on the Rashid lunar rover.

ESA provided small material samples in the wheels of the 10kg lunar rover whose lander crashed on the Moon in May.

ESA also provided ground segment services for the establishment of a UAE support centre in 2019 for the first visit by UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri to the International Space Station.

More recently, ESA also supported UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi and his backup with training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, before he spent six months on the ISS. He returned last month.

Space is increasingly viewed as a strategic domain which is important to occupy for civilian and military purposes.

In November, the EU Commission unveiled Iris2, a constellation of up to 170 satellites to be deployed by 2025 to provide secure communication services to public authorities. It will extend to commercial authorities by 2027.

Awareness that conflicts on Earth also effect space has heightened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said in a speech in Brussels this year that space will become a “battlefield.”

One month after the start of the war in Ukraine, ESA suspended a €1 billion joint project with Russia called ExoMars, which had been designed to look for signs of life on the Red Planet.

Meanwhile, investments in space and defence are soaring.

Governments invested about €100 billion ($108.58 billion) in space programmes in 2022, which represents a nine per cent overall increasing compared to 2021 and a 16 per cent increase in the space defence sector, according to Mr Borrell.

“The current geopolitical situation shows that space is an integral part of security,” said Mr Aschbacher. “And yes, that is something that will continue.”

Updated: October 08, 2023, 3:40 PM