Interview: Mohammed Al Ahbabi
To what extent are international partnerships important to strengthen the UAE’s space industry?
MOHAMMED AL AHBABI: International partnerships are essential to our journey. As the first space agency in the region, collaboration is of the utmost importance; without it, knowledge development and transfer would be impeded. As such, the UAE Space Agency currently has over 30 agreements, consolidating our commitment to the international space community. The UAE also contributes significantly to defining the future of the space sector through its membership in the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. We work on joint projects and are committed to bringing together the broader space community to set recommendations to further shape space activities as drivers of innovation, socio-economic development and diplomacy for a sustainable future. The Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe, funded by the UAE Space Agency, is a strategic initiative advancing the science, technology and engineering sectors of the UAE. At the regional level the UAE Space Agency is involved in the establishment of the Arab Space Cooperation Group, an initiative that is led by the UAE and comprises 14 Arab countries. This is an important step towards unlocking the region’s potential in the field.
What is your perception of investor sentiment?
AL AHBABI: Not everybody understands the benefits of investing in space, as it is a high-risk decision. It entails complex operational systems and requires a great amount of resources before generating any returns. However, despite it being a long-term investment, there are clear signs of interest from the local and global private sector. Institutional investors are generally accustomed to traditional asset classes such as private equity, fixed income and real estate. However, venture capital has become an asset class of interest. The UAE Space Agency aims to explain the benefits of investing in the local space industry to businesses and to society as a whole. The appetite is large, we just need to channel it correctly. The benefits of value-adding services such as climate monitoring and commercially viable services are not necessarily related to typical investor associations of launch or deep space exploration.
Which frameworks are in place to support the development of the space sector?
AL AHBABI: The UAE Space Agency is the main body mandated with developing all regulations, policies, laws and strategies to ensure the long-term development of the local space industry. We develop important frameworks, such as the National Space Strategy 2030. The National Space Law, issued in 2019 in line with international best practices, defines the responsibilities and rights of investors, including space tourism and space resources. Meanwhile, the National Space Investment Promotion Plan provides the right set of incentives for investment in the industry. It enables the UAE Space Agency to act as an incubator, funding startups and ensuring that innovative ideas are converted into prosperous businesses. The UAE Space Agency aims to promote space as an area of economic growth.
How is human capital being nurtured to ensure the UAE remains competitive in the industry?
AL AHBABI: Our agency is deeply involved in developing and supporting space-related educational and training programmes, as it is a key part of our mission. We support local universities involved in the space field and we currently have five space research centres throughout the UAE. The UAE Astronaut Programme – led by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre – has proven to be a success, with Hazzaa Al Mansoori, the first Emirati astronaut, making a trip to the International Space Station in September 2019. This programme has two main objectives. First, to get more Emirati men and women astronauts into space, ensuring the programme’s sustainability over time. Second, to make tangible scientific contributions to space exploration.
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