Dubai. 23 May 2021. The UAE’s focus on space exploration is helping the country lead the race in terms of the fourth industrial revolution [4IR] by developing indigenous expertise and skillsets at the same time as building multilateral ties by encouraging cooperation with international partners and institutions.
The 4IR technical revolution will merge physical, digital and biological technologies to deliver unprecedented products and services in new and emerging sectors such as telemedicine and tele-education or resource-mapping for developing countries.
Together with space exploration, 4IR is the key to securing the UAE’s future in a world faced with challenges in climate change, over-population and food shortages.
The UAE’s commitment to developing both its space programme and, consequently, 4IR, is evidenced by its ‘Operation 300bn’ industrial strategy. Launched recently by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, of the 10-year strategy is geared towards empowering and expanding the industrial sector to become a propeller of a sustainable national economy, increasing its GDP contribution from the current Dhs133bn to Dhs300bn by 2031.
The strategy will support more than 13,500 SMEs by 2031 and while ‘Operation 300bn’ will maintain and promote existing industries, it will also boost developing high-tech industries and 4IR ventures. Space technology is one of the key sectors that the new economic strategy will focus on.
According to Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, the strategy will “significantly accelerate the process of economic diversification already underway in key industrial sectors” along with “industries of the future, including space, biotech, medi-tech and other sectors that are enabled by 41R technologies.”
As the UAE focuses on diversifying towards a knowledge-based and innovation-led economy, the country’s extensive investment in a sustainable space programme is a long-term investment in the future.
The UAE has already established a favourable position to be a spacefaring nation by investing heavily in the development of an indigenous satellite industry with the development of Thuraya, DubaiSat, YahSat and KhalifaSat. These satellite-related activities have already established the UAE’s expertise in Earth observation, communication and navigation.
The nation’s astronaut programmes, Mars missions and plans to become only the fourth nation to land on the moon, are indications of its broader intent to become a regional leader in this area.
As the UAE’s Hope Probe entered its Mars Orbit earlier this year, the mission was hailed as both a technical and political success proving the UAE’s technical expertise and its commitment to developing future civilisations. The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) followed closely on the heels of the UAE sending its first Emirati astronaut into space in September 2019.
But those successful missions are only the tip of UAE’s space ambitions. The country plans to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon by 2024 to send back images and data from new sites of the planet that haven’t been explored by previous lunar missions. A lunar rover will be developed as part of the Moon project, with that same rover vehicle playing a role in the UAE’s long-term goal to build a self-sustaining human settlement on Mars by 2117.
The long-term 2117 Mars strategy will provide the UAE with competitive advantages such as scientific credibility and increased soft power; economic and social benefits; gender balance competitiveness and sustainability.
Over the last two decades, the UAE government’s policy has been to encourage and support Emirati scientists collaborating with international agencies to ultimately achieve self-sufficiency and be able to build satellites in the country with a 100% Emirati team, as was the case with KhalifaSat.
By the time the Hope Probe entered the Mars Orbit, more than 100 Emirati engineers were working on the EMM project, tying in with one of the project’s stated aims of boosting education in the fields of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as well as building up the UAE’s scientific talent pool.
Alongside the development of local skillsets, the EMM also saw unprecedented cooperation between the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of California and Arizona State University.
With Morgan Stanley estimating that the global space industry could generate revenue of more than $1 trillion by 2040, investments within the space sector continue to grow. The UAE Space Agency has received more than $5.2bn in government, private and semi-private support. Aabar Investments’ move to buy a stake in Virgin Galactic has fuelled the prospect of a spaceport being built in Abu Dhabi. Such a development would fasten the UAE’s position as the pre-eminent spacefaring nation in the region.
As we witness this new revolution, the new space economy plus the key trends and technologies driving the sector will be the principal topics of discussion during the Space Forum, taking place as part of Dubai Air Show.
With industry experts diving deeper and sharing their wisdom, the Space Forum provides an ideal opportunity to gain valuable insights into the burgeoning space industry.