In 2009, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched its first fully government-owned satellite into space. Five years late, the UAE Space program was launched as well. This agency directs national space programs, creates space policy and regulation, and support the development of engineers and scientists. The UAE Space Agency recently joined as a member of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group, the UAE now being the first Arab country to partake.
The program has joined many partners over the years, including it has been working with the National Space Program to encourage youth to become involved in space studies and to create opportunities for research on the International Space Station.
Recently, the UAE unveiled a new concept for a space program with plans to launch a new satellite. In addition to the satellite, it plans to send the first Arab unmanned probe to Mars. The plans are projected to be achieved by 2021. The probe that is expected to be launched on Mars by 2021 by the agency is named “Hope”. “Hope” is planned to circle Mars to collect data on the red planet’s atmosphere and surface features, including volcanoes and deserts.
Currently, approximately 75 Emirati engineers are assigned to the probe project. The agency is projecting twice as many to be working on the “Hope” project by 2020. Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s Ambassador to the United States, likens this project to American historic moments, stating “This is the Arab world’s version of president Kennedy’s Moon shot – it’s a vision for the future that can engage and excite a new generation of Emirati and Arab youth.” His words capture very well the essence of the atmosphere.
Such rapid growth in this space program is making the UAE quickly the Middle East’s leading nation in space. A recent partnership with France’s CNES space agency, and networking with NASA, are both supporting that theory. Looking at the timeline of space exploration in the Middle East, from the first satellite launches for telecommunication occurring in 2000, it is clear that the Middle East is growing rapidly in this area.
In particular, “Hope” brings just that to the UAE – hope, and a vision for a very advanced program in a relatively short amount of growth years. There is no doubt that space travel to Mars, with advanced space plans like the ones described, are in the UAE’s near future.