MYSAT-1 Marks Coming of Age of UAE Space Sector (Zarina Khan) | Wed Nov 21, 2018

In an op-ed in Gulf News, UAE Space Agency Senior Director of Space Missions Khaled Al Hashmi shares the significance of the launch of KU’s MYSAT-1.

The launch of MYSAT-1, developed and built by Khalifa University of Science and Technology students under its faculty’s guidance, reveals the rapid maturation of the UAE’s space sector. This follows the October launch of KhalifaSat, developed by a team of Emirati professionals at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) under the supervision of the UAE Space Agency. The UAE’s space sector is now in a phase where we are witnessing accelerating progress as we move towards the launch of the Hope Probe in 2020.

MYSAT-1 has been launched into space on November 17 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), on Wallops Island in Virginia, USA, as part of the Cygnus OA-10 flight, aboard an Antares rocket. It is destined for the International Space Station, where it will carry out an education and research mission. The CubeSat carries a camera as a payload to take images of Earth from space to refine the process of remote sensing. It will also test a novel lithium-ion battery designed and developed at Khalifa University.

While not the first nano-satellite developed in the UAE, MYSAT-1 is among the first to be developed by local students who have been taught within the country, at one of the UAE’s own universities. The students who designed and built MYSAT-1 were part of Khalifa University’s Master’s concentration in space systems and technology, which was developed by the university in partnership with the UAE’s satellite industry leader, Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat), a Mubadala-owned satellite communications company, and Northrop Grumman, an American defense and aerospace manufacturing company. The program has been evolving to support multiple missions through the concentration and also through the involvement of students in other space missions funded by the UAE Space Agency.

Students who graduate from the program will play a critical role in achieving the UAE’s goal of sending the Arab world’s first unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, coinciding with the country’s 50th anniversary. Roughly 75 Emirati scientists and engineers, working for MBRSC and the UAE Space Agency, are engaged with implementing the Emirates Mars Mission. The Master’s program offered by Khalifa University, with its Small Satellite Program, is ideal for attracting young ambitious Emirati students and giving them the guidance and skills they need to meet current and future challenges.

Of course, reaching for the stars is no easy feat, and to do it in such a short period of time – the UAE’s space sector is only around 12 years old – has required collaboration and partnership. As we move ahead to close the remaining gaps as the UAE’s space sector capabilities, we have looked to those who have escaped the barriers of earth’s atmosphere before us. MBRSC recently partnered with the European Space Agency (ESA) to train the UAE's first Emirati astronaut, who will blast off to the International Space Station in April 2019. The UAE has also partnered with Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, to take the UAE’s first-ever Emirati astronaut to the International Space Station.

The UAE Space Agency has also recently joined the International Space Education Board, which has a goal of increasing literacy in space and related science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, as well as supporting the development of advanced skills that will be required by future space programs. We hope through this and our other activities to not only inspire the UAE’s own people but also the greater Arab world, and have already brought 11 other Arab countries together to talk about space cooperation.

Together we can achieve what may now appear impossible. Next year Emirati astronauts will be orbiting Earth, and in less than two years our Hope Probe will be bound for Mars. Yet these projects are only the beginning, and we will continue to dream big and strive forward together.

Khaled Al Hashmi is Senior Director of Space Missions at the UAE Space Agency. This op-ed appeared in print in Gulf News on 21 November 2018.