Interview: Salem Butti Al Qubaisi

To what extent do strategic partnerships support the industry’s human capital development efforts?

SALEM BUTTI AL QUBAISI: The UAE is committed to strengthening international economic cooperation in all fields, including the space industry. These partnerships help build relationships with key international players – illustrated by the December 2022 memorandum of understanding signed with the Philippine Space Agency – and increase collaboration in research, exploration and the exchange of ideas. Importantly, these activities serve to develop Emirati talent in line with our long-term strategy.

Since the establishment of the UAE Space Agency in 2014, we have signed over 30 regional and international agreements to boost the profile of the industry. For example, the selection of Emirati engineer Omran Sharaf to chair the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for 2022-23 demonstrates the international community’s confidence in the country’s long-term space strategy. In addition, the UAE has sought to promote regional collaboration by creating the 14-country Arab Space Cooperation Group in 2019.

In what ways can data analytics platforms guide space exploration and commercialisation?

AL QUBAISI: The Space Data Centre was launched by the UAE to provide an ecosystem to apply space data and technologies to address global sustainability concerns, promote space-related solutions to national challenges, and boost the number of companies and patents in the industry. The project also helps attract leading innovators, accelerate space product development, and increase scientific research productivity by utilising space-related applications and services to diversify the UAE’s economy and promote knowledge.

The data centre’s geospatial analytics platform aims to harness the power of data management to develop earth-monitoring applications. Additionally, our partnership with software company Bayanat aligns with our strategy to enable the national space services and applications industry, and encourage the use of such services to improve government efficiency and the competitiveness of the private sector.

Furthermore, we have launched the Space Analytics and Solutions initiative to promote the downstream side of the space value chain by providing grants and non-financial support to start-ups operating in the development of space applications and value-added services. The programme focuses on start-ups working in the fields of environmental monitoring, agricultural and water studies, climate change and food security.

How do you assess the UAE’s existing scientific capabilities, and what are its priorities in this regard?

AL QUBAISI: The UAE has become a regional leader in the space industry and plays a crucial role in developing international policies in the field. In this sense, the country is fostering a highly skilled workforce of space scientists and engineers to undertake future projects.

The UAE has launched workshops to support the private sector to ensure the sustainability of the sector. Specifically, two-phase training workshops with a six-month duration are set to develop human capital in space sciences and technologies.

As of early 2022 the Hope Probe mission has been providing the international scientific community with data and high-resolution images of Mars’ atmosphere and topography. The Emirati interplanetary mission to explore the asteroid belt is the only one of its kind in the Arab world. First announced in 2021, the five-year mission is set to begin in early 2028.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, hosted the first edition of the Abu Dhabi Space Debate in December 2022, with the participation of over 300 decision-makers, ministers and representatives of space agencies from more than 47 countries. This event helped to solidify the UAE’s position as a leader in the space industry and a centre for key discussions on the future of space exploration.