By Sarah Townsend
UAE Space Agency plans to send a probe to Mars by 2021, will establish the MidEast’s first Space Research Centre, with gov't funding of $27m over the next 5 years
The UAE on Monday unveiled an action plan for it's newly established national space agency.
The UAE Space Agency is the latest in a series of high-profile investments intended to position the UAE as a global leader in space research and exploration.
The new agency, constituted in December under a decree by the UAE President, will have four main objectives, its representatives said.
These are: to create a legal and regulatory framework for the fledgling UAE space sector; promote, fund and support scientific and technological research to build expertise in space exploration; train and recruit UAE nationals to work in the space sector in future, and, finally, to ensure the agency's work is in line with international standards and regulations.
At the launch event in Abu Dhabi on Monday – at which Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was present – it was revealed that the agency will establish the Middle East’s first Space Research Centre, government funded with AED100 million ($27 million) over the next five years and in partnership with the UAE University and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).
Sheikh Mohammed said of the plans: "The Hope Probe and the UAE Space Agency are milestones for the development of the UAE. Building a new space sector that is integrated and comprehensive is a value-added step for our national economy, technical knowledge, human capital, and international reputation."
The agency’s first task will be to press ahead with sending the UAE's 'Hope Probe' mission to Mars by 2021, which is timed to coincide with the UAE's 50th anniversary of the union of the emirates.
Dr Mohamed Nasser Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, told assembled press: "[The Hope Probe] is one of the agency's first ambitious projects in terms of supervision and funding.
"It will provide the agency with a solid platform for developing the national space sector further across various fields."
The agency's chairman, Dr Khalifa Mohammed Thani Al Rumaitha, added: "Our strategic direction for the future is inspired by [the UAE's] rich history and heritage, which was a foundation for astronomy.
"We are focusing on creating the future leaders of the nation in the fields of science, technology and engineering in order to achieve our vision."
The agency also announced the launch of the region's first academic space programme - a masters course at the Masdar Institute, backed by the institute, the UAE Space Agency and private satellite-communications companies Yahsat and ATK Orbital. The course, starting this September, will take around 12 gifted students each year and target UAE nationals to build local expertise in the sector.
Yahsat chief executive Masood M. Sharif Mahmoud said: “Space is proving to be a major economic driver here in the UAE, and for nations elsewhere. Through the UAE Space Agency, the country has developed a long-term strategic plan to create a solid and sustainable foundation for advanced space innovation and exploration – a plan of which we are proud to be part.”
It is understood that a definitive annual budget for the UAE Space Agency has not yet been agreed, and that funding will come from a range of private sector partners as well as from the government.