France, UAE Sign Cooperative Space Accord

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PARIS — The United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) on April 9 concluded a cooperation accord with the French space agency, CNES, which includes joint work on the UAE’s planned 2020 launch of a probe to Mars, the two agencies announced.

The accord is the latest in UAESA’s fast-track development cycle. Created just nine months ago, the agency has signed multiple agreements with established spacefaring nations as it pursues a strategy of making space a growth engine for the nation’s economy.

UAESA in March toured U.S. government and industrial space facilities. Four days before receiving the French delegation in Abu Dhabi April 9, UAESA concluded bilateral space agreements with Russia, Britain and Kazakhstan.

The United Arab Emirates appears to have reversed the historic development pattern of nations with ambitions in space in that it created an industry before an agency was there to direct investment.

The UAESA said the government has already invested more than 20 billion UAE dirhams ($5.4 billion) in setting up mobile satellite services provider Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications and Al Yah Satellite Communications Co., known as Yahsat, which operates two satellites for fixed and mobile commercial and military communications.

Yahsat’s first two satellites were manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space, and Thales Alenia Space of Europe. The third is under construction by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia.

Dubaisat-1
Dubaisat-1. Credit: Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology

The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) was created about 10 years ago and has developed, with Satrec Initiative of South Korea, two Earth-imaging satellites, DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2.

A third Earth observation satellite, KhalifaSat-1, is under construction and billed as the UAE’s first domestically produced satellite. It is scheduled for launch in 2018 as a secondary passenger on a Japanese H-2A rocket.

UAESA has said its planned Mars probe, to be launched in 2020 and to arrive at the red planet in 2021 for the UAE’s 50th anniversary celebration, will be “the first Arab-Islamic probe to Mars.” EIAST officials, who are responsible for the probe’s development, have said the probe will feature a large involvement of UAE nationals in addition to assistance from non-UAE agencies.

The agreement with the French space agency, CNES, was signed in Abu Dhabi by CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall and Khalifa Mohammed Al Rumaithi, UAESA’s president.

CNES said in a statement following the agreement that it would be creating formal links with EIAST to conduct joint work on the Mars probe.