Set for blast-off in Abu Dhabi

The two-day Global Space Congress (GSC) returns to Abu Dhabi from January 31-February 1 at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort. Steve Nichols looks forward to the event.
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The GSC has its roots in the global space and satellite forum (GSSF), which has taken place in the Emirate since 2008.
At its launch, the GSSF spearheaded the region’s space ambitions, bringing together stakeholders and creating awareness of the need for an organised space sector in the UAE.
The event has since evolved into the GSC, and is being held in Abu Dhabi, the home of the UAE Space Agency, in order to reflect its stature as the premier space event in the region.
So what can we expect?
Organiser Streamline Marketing Group (SMG) says the congress will support the region’s on-going space projects and initiatives. It also sets out to establish the region as a “central contributor to the global industry of space exploration through its support for pioneering projects, space education and research, commercial space applications and scientific and commercial missions”.
The list of high-level speakers is still growing, but includes Professor Sir Martin Sweeting, executive chairman of small satellite specialist SSTL, and George Whitesides, chief executive officer, Virgin Galactic.
Others include Soichi Noguchi, head of the astronaut group, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, secretary general, Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.
The UAE Space Agency will be represented by HE Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general, and Sheikha Al Maskari, chief innovation officer.
SMG managing partner, Nick Webb, said: “The industry is undergoing a massive shift wherein there is a significant private sector role and involvement in space technology research, development and business.
“The event will unite 600 executives and senior decision-makers from the space and satellite sector and connect new space business ventures with traditional players and seek to find opportunity for new firms.
“GSC is a perfect opportunity for anyone who wants to meet with the leaders from key space and satellite projects from countries such as Morocco, Pakistan, India and many others. We are looking forward to welcoming the global space community to the UAE.”
UAE investment in the space sector has surpassed 20 million AED ($5.4m) and the UAE Space Agency continues with its drive towards developing international connections and increasing knowledge transfer within the industry.
According to The Space Foundation, the global space industry is now worth more than $330 billion worldwide, with commercial space activities making up more than 76% of the global space economy.
International space players are increasingly looking towards cooperation and partnership and the UAE is leading the Middle East region in terms of driving space activities and building global space agreements.
HE Dr Khalifa Al Romaithi, chairman of the UAE Space Agency said: “We believe that Abu Dhabi is well suited to host an international forum that will address the major developments happening in the space industry worldwide.
“Our vision is to develop an innovative and thriving space industry that allows sector leaders to collaborate and work together to achieve success and bring benefits to mankind.
“GSC will be the ideal opportunity for knowledge transfer and exchange of best practices and an international event of this calibre will help us in achieving our vision.”
The UAE has one of the preeminent emerging space industries. It has a number of projects under way, including the Hope space probe that will land on Mars in 2021.
Hope is planned for launch in July 2020, arriving at Mars seven months later, in time for the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s foundation.
Once in orbit, Hope, which was named after a public campaign, will explore the Martian atmosphere using scientific instruments that include visible, infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers.
Its data should help scientists build a holistic model of the planet’s daily and seasonal cycles, and may explain why Mars lost a lot of its atmosphere to space.
The agency is also planning the launch of the KhalifaSat Earth-observation satellite in 2017. KhalifaSat will have a mass of 350kg and orbit roughly every 90 minutes at a height of around 600km.
It will better the resolution of the UAE’s DubaiSat predecessors, thanks to developments in imaging sensors and optics.
The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology’s (EIAST’s) first satellite, DubaiSat-1, was launched in 2009, and passes over the UAE four times a day providing 2.5metre resolution colour images. The much bigger DubaiSat-2 was launched in 2013, providing 1m resolution panchromatic (black and white), plus 4m multispectral (colour) photographs across a 12km-wide imaging swath.
With its four solar panels, KhalifaSat will have a resolution of 0.7 metres for panchromatic images and 2.8 metres for multi-spectral imagery.
The satellite will be able to store 1,024 images, each representing a 12km x 12km area. The total image size that can be stored will be 12km x 1,350km.
Another UAE educational space project is the Nayif-1 CubeSat. Engineering students from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) have built and will launch the UAE’s first CubeSat into space as part of a senior design project.
A CubeSat is a nanosatellite with a standardised and simplified cubic design, weighing about 1kg and with sides around 10cm long.
The student-built Nayif-1, which means “one that soars high above”, is scheduled to be lofted from Florida aboard a Falcon-9 rocket once SpaceX is confident it has overcome its recent launch issues.
The CubeSat mission is a partnership between AUS, the Innovative Solutions in Space Company and EIAST.
The mission aims to offer Emirati students from various engineering disciplines hands-on experience at designing, testing and operating a communications satellite.
The nanosatellite will produce a communication footprint ranging from 5,000-5,500km and can orbit at a height between 450km and 720km for up to three years.
A ground station has been built at AUS and will be operated by engineering students, who will be responsible for mission planning and operations.
Dr Mohamed El Tarhuni, professor and associate dean of the College of Engineering at the university, said the project had been a “very exciting and fruitful experience for the students”.
Nayif-1 will carry a transponder (FUNcube-5) for amateur radio communications and is expected to launch along with other amateur radio satellites by the end of this year.
The UAE Space Agency recently signed major memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with a number of international players, including space agencies in the UK, France, Italy, Russia, China, India and Japan. These agreements form part of the UAE Space Agency’s strategy towards raising awareness of the space sector in the UAE.
It also encourages nationals to learn more about the industry and its importance in shaping a sustainable, diversified economy that is knowledge-, rather than resource, -based.
The congress will also host several additional events as part of the ‘next-gen space initiative’, including a university roadshow, ‘launchpad: careers in space’ and the GSC youth lecture.
The university roadshow will be an opportunity for students to discover what it is really like to have a career in the space sector, what the key challenges are and what is necessary to win a place in an industry identified as a key UAE development area.
“Launchpad: careers in space will run during the two days of the congress and will give students and young professionals the opportunity to learn about the broad range of career options in the space sector.
The youth lecture will be presented by global leaders in the space sector, celebrating the opportunities space brings in an effort to inspire the UAE population. This is aimed especially at young nationals and their parents, to take an active interest in space, to promote the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and to promote the vision of the UAE’s leadership.