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UAE on a different planet

Posted 7 June 2017 · Add Comment

The Global Space Congress took place recently at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi, demonstrating the UAE's commitment to the industry. Steve Nichols was there.

The international event, which attracted more than 600 experts and around 90 speakers, was held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.
His Highness attended the first day of the event, hearing how the UAE space sector is forging ahead with its plans and inspiring youngsters across the Emirates.
Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general, UAE Space Agency, said that this was part of the wider plan to move the Emirates away from an oil-based economy to one based on science, technology and engineering.
The benefits include economic growth and diversification, encouraging advanced scientific research among students and graduates, and long-term global partnerships. Emirati space-based companies already include Thuraya and Yahsat.
This was emphasised with the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Korean Space Agency at the event, the latest in a long series of MoUs with agencies worldwide. The UAE has a long-standing relationship with South Korea, as the country’s Satrec Initiative is its partner on the DubaiSat and KhalifaSat programmes.
Dr Khalifa Al Romaithi, chairman of the UAE Space Agency, said: “The UAE space sector’s strategic goals focus on building and strengthening international relationships and partnerships in the field, including developing bilateral relations with Arab states.”
To underline the region’s commitment, Yosouf Hamad Al Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), announced that the centre had submitted a request to host the 71st session of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in 2020.
The audience also heard that the UAE is on target with its Hope Mars mission, which will launch aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries rocket from Japan in 2020.
It should reach the Red Planet in 2021 to coincide with celebrations that will mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s foundation.
Once in orbit, Hope will explore the Martian atmosphere using scientific instruments that include visible, infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers.
Its data should help scientists build a holistic model of the planet’s daily and seasonal cycles, and may explain why Mars lost a lot of its atmosphere to space.
Sarah Amiri, acting director, space science department at MBRSC, said that Earth and Mars have a lot in common, so this is a vital step to understanding our own world.
Shortly after the conference, the UAE also unveiled a new project that aims to establish the first inhabitable human settlement on Mars by 2117.
Called the Mars 2117 Project, it is set to be developed and executed in partnership with major international scientific research institutions.
Meanwhile, MBRSC showcased its space projects and initiatives including KhalifaSat, a 350kg Earth observation satellite, due for launch in 2018. This will join DubaiSat 2, which was launched in 2013, and DubaiSat 1, which pioneered UAE Earth observation technology in 2009.
It was also due to launch its Nayif-1 cubesat a week after the congress, a nanosatellite with a standardised and simplified cubic design, weighing about 1kg and with sides 10cm long.
Nayif-1 was eventually launched on Wednesday, February 15 and is transmitting data to schools and universities. It produces a communication footprint ranging from 5,000-5,500km and will orbit at a height between 450km and 720km for up to three years.
MBRSC also talked of future cubesat missions to follow on from Nayif-1, which was built by engineering students from the American University of Sharjah (AUS). It confirmed that there are other cubesat projects planned at five UAE universities.
The event was also an opportunity for youngsters to find out more about the industry through the Airbus ‘Little Engineer’ space workshop.
This gave students the opportunity to simulate a space mission and send an unmanned mission to Mars. Students were tasked with building space vehicles and a rocket, using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in a hands-on fun way.
Industry partnership on education is a vital part of the Emirates’ space programme. The congress heard how 16 young Emiratis had spent an intensive four months with Lockheed Martin in the US in 2016. This culminated in them witnessing the launch of the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft, which will study Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid. A further event is planned for later this year.
Dr Alice Bunn, director of policy at the UK Space Agency, said that activities like this were vital to guarantee the next generation of space scientists and engineers, citing how UK European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake’s ‘Principia’ mission had done just that.
 

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