SAR deal switches on the satellites

The United Arab Emirates Sirb satellite project received a boost with a contract with a UAE-based company to develop and manage the programme.

Sirb SAR satellite

An artist's impression of a Sirb SAR satellite. Image: UAE Space Agency

The UAE Space Agency and Abu Dhabi-based Edge signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in November to implement the Sirb programme – a constellation of three synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites. Sirb is the Arabic term for a flock of birds.

The constellation of SAR satellites will create highly-detailed radar images of land use, ice cover and surface changes, with a wide range of scientific and commercial applications, with the first satellite launch by 2026.

The three satellites will use advanced imaging technology to achieve high-precision results and support a wide range of scientific and commercial applications, from monitoring environmental changes to natural disaster management and mapping.

SAR satellites can capture images during the day and night regardless of atmospheric conditions. Scientists can use the data to trace oil spills, track maritime vessels and monitor crop yields, a government statement said.

When the project was launched Sarah Al Amiri, minister of state for public education and advanced technology and chair of the UAE Space Agency, said: “SAR technology leapfrogs traditional imaging satellites, providing more powerful imaging using X-band radar technologies, allowing us to continue observations day and night, through fog and cloud cover as well as combining observations to create big data pictures simply not possible through conventional imaging.

“These small-scale satellites are more agile, faster to develop and more powerful – an indicator of the types of new generation systems that technology is now making possible.”

The project aligns with the UAE government’s directions to create opportunities for national companies, including start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), in the private sector.

Under the guidance of the UAE Space Agency, Edge has announced the formation of a local consortium of key players in the UAE’s private space sector and national centres, fulfilling one of the primary objectives of its strategic partnership with the agency.

Edge has assumed the prime contractor role with an added focus on the SAR payload development. Yahsat and Bayanat will implement the management of satellites, operations, data and space applications, while the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) at the UAE University in Al Ain will contribute by providing assembly, integration, and testing (AIT) operations.

The consortium will continue to expand its collaboration with other industry players, SMEs, and start-ups “to further enhance the collective expertise and capabilities of the programme”.

Salem Butti Al Qubaisi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, said: “Our partnership with Edge is a strategic step in growing the UAE’s private space sector.

“The establishment of this local consortium is a cornerstone in our mission to implement the Sirb programme and foster a competitive and innovative commercial space sector. Through strategic collaborations with the UAE’s major private space players and national centres, we are promoting the growth of a knowledge-based economy and ensuring that the UAE's talent and expertise are central to our regional and global leadership in the space domain.”

Mansour Al Mulla, managing director and CEO of Edge Group, said: "At Edge, our sights are set on enhancing our capabilities and playing a transformative role in the national and global space sector. The signing of this MoU is an important first step and lays the foundation for strategic investments and partnerships which will accelerate the ‘Sirb’ programme.

“By uniting the foremost local players in the sector, we are fostering national research and development (R&D) and driving the nation’s ambitions for a competitive space ecosystem.”

The Sirb initiative is part of a Dh3 billion ($820 million) space fund that was set out last year.

Steve Nichols

Steve Nichols

Steve (BSc Hons, FIIC) is a journalist and communicator with more than 35 years' experience.