UAE Space Agency highlights space sector’s contribution to sustainability

“Sustainability is inextricably linked to technological advancement and the development of advanced skills,” said Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, during the final day of the UAE Space Agency’s participation in Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) 2019.


Throughout the week-long event, the Agency showcased the space sector’s significant contribution to sustainability and the development of diversified, knowledge-based economies.

The UAE Space Agency played a key role at the 11th edition of ADSW with Influential delegates from the Agency were involved in panel discussions, networking lunches, start-up hubs, and award ceremonies. The Agency delegation was led by Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, and included: Dr. Eng. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency; Dr. Mohamed Al Junaibi, Executive Director of Space Sector; Dr. Khaled Al Hashmi, Director of Space Missions, Science and Technology; Sheikha Al Maskari, Chief Innovation Officer; Naser Al Rashedi, Director of National Space Policy and Regulation; Sumaya Al Hajiri, Head of Space Policy and Regulations, and other officials and engineers from the Agency.

DR Al Falasi said: “How investment in science drives the UAE’s long term sustainable development’ with Her Excellency Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, and Her Excellency Mariam Al Mheiri, Minister of State for Food Security. H.E. Dr. Al Falasi stressed the important role that youths play in sustainability, saying: ”The next generation is integral to meeting the sustainability targets that are laid out in the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda. Young people are innovative, passionate, creative and energetic. We need to harness and nurture these qualities with effective higher education and advanced skills programs.”

“The growth and development of the UAE’s space sector will directly contribute to excellence in education and a diversified, knowledge-based economy – two of the key pillars on which the UAE Centennial Plan 2071, which was launched by H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, is based,” added Dr. Al Falasi. 

On the role of the exploration of Mars in capacity building, Dr. Al Falasi said: “The UAE’s ambition to have a permanent settlement on Mars by 2117 has created a long-term objective that will encourage generations of Emiratis to take up science disciplines, in the process inculcating a culture of advanced knowledge, innovation and learning that will drive the UAE’s sustainable development.” 

Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, participated in a panel entitled ‘Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today’ with Erin Winick, Associate Editor of Future of Work at MIT Technology Review, and Steve Griffiths, senior vice president of research and development at Khalifa University. The panel was moderated by Cailin Birch, the Global Economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Al Ahbabi said, “The UAE Space Agency is the first established space agency in the region, and is the largest in terms of investment and number of satellites. We try to utilize space to inspire, attract, educate, and train young people. We inspire the youth to pursue a STEM degree, as one of our mandates is to build human workforce capacity.”

In a discussion about how the workforce of the future could be impacted by machines, H.E. Al Ahbabi said, “Satellites are robotic, and creating a satellite takes around three years and it is a very complex and sophisticated process. I think automation in the space industry is important for saving time and reducing cost, as space is a sector that requires a lot of money.” 

He added” “I do not believe that automation and robotics will take over and I do not think that humans will become idle and unemployed. Satellites require humans to operate them and eventually we will see that more automation will help humans with a lot of work.”

During a panel entitled ‘Bringing Space Tech Home’, Dr. Mohamed Al Junaibi, executive director of space sector, expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of a prestigious panel that included Carissa Bryce Christensen, Founder and CEO at Bryce Space and Technology, and Salem Al Marri, Assistant Director General of Science and Technology at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. Dr. Al Junaibi said, “Our objective is to transform the UAE into a knowledge-based economy, in part through growing the space sector, which benefits humanity and contributes to sustainability. The UAE has the largest space economy in the region, and we are able to leverage what we have for the benefit of the UAE and the world.”

In addition, responding to a question about the particular uses of space technology in the UAE for the benefit of humanity, Dr. Al Junaibi said, “In the UAE, we have a vital and diverse space sector which includes satellite companies like YahSat and Thuraya who provide communication services all over the world. Last year, YahSat launched its third satellite, and now it covers 60 million people across more than 140 countries. Some parts of the world that have not been connected before, like the Amazon region, are now connected to the whole world. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) also serves as a great model for utilizing space for the benefit of humanity - it currently operates three satellites with a wide range of capabilities.” 

ADSW also highlighted the significant role played by women in inspiring change and innovation, and their contribution to the development of a sustainable future. Sheikha Al Maskari, chief innovation officer at UAE Space Agency, was a participant in the Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy (WiSER) initiative at ADSW entitled ‘The Role of Women in Advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals’. Al Maskari, along with her fellow participants, discussed how women can play a larger role through education, entrepreneurship and innovation, finance and policy, and culture/changing behavior, to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Al Maskari highlighted how women are underrepresented in STEM fields around the world, especially in the space industry. She shared some of the approaches that have been adopted to bolster the role of women in space, saying, “We have developed engagement and capacity building programs, all of which are open to girls and women, which have been effective in minimizing the challenge of opportunity structures.”

“In order to combat some of the underlying grassroots issues facing women in space, we have also sought to raise awareness of space and build a culture of interest in the field,” added Al Maskari.

On another note, Naser Al Rashedi, director of national space policy and regulation, and Sumaya Al Hajiri, head of space policy and regulations, also joined key panellists in a session titled 'How to Become a Sustainable UAE Space Program’, where the panellists discussed the importance of space investment, engaging youth, and building capacity.

Al Rashedi highlighted the importance of space investment in the UAE” “As the UAE Space Agency, we are working along with other players on finding ways to encourage investments in space, not just from governments, but from companies and individuals. We have communicated with stakeholders, investors, government entities, and universities, to discuss the importance of raising awareness to space companies who want to better understand the market needs. As well as  enlightening customers who already have a lot of business about the breadth of space utilisation opportunities, and having the right regulation to support investors in space.”

Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency