In-depth Insight: UAE’s soaring space ambitions
Priya Wadhwa
Space Exploration

In-depth Insight: UAE’s soaring space ambitions

The SME10X team takes a closer look at the sky-rocketing plans.

After launching 3 satellites, it is now working on launching a probe to Mars to study its atmosphere and plans to build a city on the red planet by 2117. Learn more about UAE’s ventures into space below.

Since the year 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) has been continually occupied with a rotational crew of astronauts from 17 countries. On 25th of September this year, an Emirati astronaut is set to lift off for an eight-day mission to the ISS, joining the ranks of the world’s finest astronauts to have been there.

The UAE has grand plans for space, with a 100 year vision to build a city on Mars by 2117. In just the past 5 years, it has launched 3 satellites into space, namely DubaiSat-1, DubaiSat-2 and the most recently launched KhalifaSat, which was built entirely by Emirati engineers.

Furthermore, April of 2017 saw the launch of the UAE Astronaut Programme by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. Of the 4000 applications, two astronauts, Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazzaa Al Mansouri, were selected for the research mission at the International Space Station.

This mission is already set to launch on the 25th of September this year, where one of the two astronauts will become the first Emirati astronaut to visit the International Space Station. Their mission is to study the effects of zero gravity on human bodies, with vitals being checked before and after the mission.

Earlier this March, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum met with the two astronauts, asking them to “carry the dreams of our founding fathers, the ambitions of our people, and inspire our youth to raise their aspirations to the sky.”

The International Space Station is just the first major step into space. As far as the ideas to colonise Mars go, private companies in the US already have plans. Elon Musk plans to construct a city by the 2030s as part of its SpaceX programme, for which it aims to send the first crewed mission to Mars by 2024.

The UAE, even as a nascent country in space endeavours, has made ambitious strides with the launch of its satellites, and is currently building the probe to send to Mars next year. Named Al Amal, meaning Hope, the probe will set off in July 2020 for a seven month journey to reach Mars with a mission to study why oxygen and hydrogen have been escaping its atmosphere.

Expected to send more than 1000 gigabytes of new data back to the Earth, this Emirates Mars Mission marks one of the first important researches in line with UAE’s 2117 vision to build and populate the planet with its [currently dubbed as the] City of Wisdom, with over half a million people. The focus of the proposed city will be scientific research, so as to develop transportation mechanisms and advanced forms of agriculture on the red planet.

The Al Amal probe and its journey to Mars is planned, executed and managed by a team right here in the UAE with more than 75 Emiratis. This number is expected to grow to 150 by 2020 to help with the mission.

Envisioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s foundation with its arrival on Mars in 2021, the Al Amal probe is one of the strongest steps taken by the UAE to establish itself as a powerful space contender, as it moves from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy. As per the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, this mission to Mars will be a turning point in the nation’s development, as it aims to make the space technology a key economic sector in the coming years.

The space sector is becoming increasingly important to countries around the world, as the evolution of space technology brings with it the advancement of the telecommunications and broadcasting sector. Not only that, it also comes with technology that can provide invaluable information regarding the Earth’s weather. As the global temperatures are rising and the Earth is facing an impending climate crisis, the space technology can be invaluable in tracking information that can help avert weather and natural disasters.

The industry, estimated to be worth around $300 billion globally, is growing by an estimated 8% every year. By the time Al Amal probe reaches Mars, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan said, “We aim for the UAE to be among the top countries in the field of aerospace by 2021.”

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum too has talked about this Emirates Mars Mission with great pride, dubbing it as the step that will mark UAE’s position as a major player in the field of science.

UAE’s space industry has been active since 2009, and in just 10 years, it has already undertaken enormous feats and has ambitious visions for the future. Just 5 years into its space activities, in 2014 it announced its plans to send a probe to Mars; and today, we’re closer to see the launch of Al Amal. It’s only a matter of time to see the visions becoming reality, as we blast off into the future, armed with knowledge and technology.