DUBAI AIRSHOW NEWS: UAE Space Agency Sets Sights on Regional Growth

By Laura Heckmann

UAE Space Agency image

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates Space Agency was only launched in 2014, and as a young organization, it is looking to expand its opportunities and infrastructure.

In order to understand opportunities for the Middle East in the space sector, “we need to set some context behind where the sector is in this part of the world,” Amar Vora, head of space at Serco Middle East, said during a panel discussion at the Dubai Airshow Nov. 14.

The United Arab Emirates started nationally engaging the space sector in the 2000s, when the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre was established in 2006, he said. After the UAE Space Agency was launched in 2014, it was followed by a National Space Strategy in 2019.

“And more recently, we're seeing more and more campaigns coming out of the space agency,” he said. Historically, the UAE Space Agency and national ecosystem have focused “a lot of investment and time” into human spaceflight, space exploration missions and Earth observation missions, “and a lot of that has been in collaboration with other space agencies globally to allow … knowledge transfer and training ecosystems to be established.”

Moving forward, Vora said he is seeing the UAE Space Agency, and the national agenda, looking to establish more opportunities for the private sector to engage in national programs.

One example is the agency’s Space Economic Zones Program, an initiative to attract space startups into the new ecosystem and support the space agency through a journey of commercialization of services, Vora explained.

The program’s objectives are to enhance the competitiveness of companies’ operations in the space economy, contributing to an enhanced demand for space applications and services, according to a UAE Space Agency fact sheet on the program.

Some incentives the program offers include express permits to practice specific space activities, use of space facilities in the UAE, accelerated program opportunities, financial assistance and expansion opportunities.

“So, I think that there is a lot of appetite and opportunity now within this environment in the UAE, and there will be more and more opportunities for the private sector going forward to support the national agenda across the border in Saudi Arabia,” Vora said. “I think we are now starting to see a lot of potential opportunity — and appetite — for establishing the space industry capability in Saudi.”

Vora said he expects to see “exponential growth” in Saudi Arabia over the next few years with the “imminent” release of its own space strategy, “which we hope will come out soon.”

In that strategy, Vora said he expects to see an emphasis on commercialization of space services across the end-to-end ecosystem of the space industry. “And with that, the ability to start localizing national space capabilities supported by the private sector.”

Vora said he sees “a lot of opportunity through the Saudi ecosystem as well.” He noted he had not even touched on neighboring states in the Middle East, such as Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain, each of which has its own space strategy or “intentions to develop a local space industry,” he said.

“In summary … I feel that there is a lot of opportunity for growth for the private sector,” he said.

As start-ups grow and involvement increases from academia within the region, Vora said: “I think those opportunities are really backed by credible space programs that are also well funded” and “well defined.”

The main challenges facing the growing space industry in the Middle East are universal, he said: skills and infrastructure. There is a global skill shortage across all industries, and the regional space sector is no exception, he said.

While this presents an opportunity to tap into the global skills pool and support growth in the region, there also needs to be the establishment of local knowledge and local capabilities “to sustain that growth and maintain the trajectory the space industry is going in,” Vora said.

As a company within the region, Vora said his employer, Serco, has launched a space graduate program targeting nationals and “taking them through a targeted space training development program,” despite the company’s space division only being launched in March.

It’s all part of the mission to build up the ecosystem of a young space industry, he said.

“There is ambition to establish more and more opportunities for skills to be brought in and localized in this region,” he said. And as more capabilities are developed and more ambitions are realized, there will be a need “to establish just the right set of space infrastructure via satellite manufacturing capabilities, operations facilities and downstream processing.”

Those are “some of the challenges that we see arising over the next few years,” he said.


Topics: Space

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