MIDDLE EAST: Plans for space education and research

The United Arab Emirates has announced plans to boost space science in higher education, as well as research and development in the UAE and the Middle East region.

The launch of the Emirates first US$50 million earth-observation satellite on 30 July was the first step in implementing the plan.

DubaiSat-1, the UAE's first dedicated 'eye in the sky', was successfully launched into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was developed by the South Korea-based Satrec initiative with the cooperation of 16 UAE engineers from the Emirates Institute of Advanced Science and Technology.

The remote sensing satellite has a minimum lifespan of five years. It will be used for research into fog forecasting, sandstorm prediction, monitoring water in the Gulf and improving the clarity of received satellite pictures, as well as detecting and monitoring pollution such as oil spills.

The satellite could also prove useful in managing the response to natural disasters and boost the UAE's research and development in space sciences and other scientific disciplines.

Although Emirati technicians were responsible for only 30% of the work on DubaiSat-1, two others dubbed DubaiSat-2 and 3 are expected to be ready by 2020 and will be developed by Emiratis.

"Developing a core team of UAE scientists and experts was the most definitive outcome of a strategy that is geared to support mature, knowledge-based development," said Ahmad Obaid Al Mansouri, Director-General of the Emirates institute.

The plan also includes the establishment of a US$800 million Gulf space centre and satellite programme based in Abu Dhabi. This will be the largest in the Middle East and North Africa region.

As well as setting up a space port and a satellite observation centre, the institute is developing a US$22.5 million assembly, integration and verification facility for testing satellites which will include shock testers and machines that simulate the effects of space.

One of the important home-grown space projects is the establishment of a US$30 million Gulf Earth Observation Centre, expected to be operational within six months. It will have a space academy providing education up to university level in telecommunications, electronics and space engineering.

The plan also includes establishing a federal space authority to coordinate national R&D programmes for spacecraft-satellite projects in government, private companies and academic institution research.

The UAE will hold the second annual Global Space Technology Forum in December in Abu Dhabi.

"This plan will position UAE as regional hub for space science and education as well as a Middle East centre of expertise offering assistance to countries looking to develop a presence in the space technology field", Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former President of Alexandria's Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications, told University World News.