TAMPA, Fla. — Karim Michel Sabbagh has left megaconstellation startup E-Space to lead Space42, a proposed combination of regional satellite operator Yahsat and geospatial intelligence provider Bayanat valued at around $4 billion.
Sabbagh, a former CEO of SES who joined Florida-based E-Space last year to oversee strategy in Europe and the Middle East, would be managing director for Space42 if the two Emirati companies get regulatory and shareholder approvals for their all-share merger.
Yahsat is a subsidiary of Mubadala, the United Arab Emirates state-owned investment company that carved Bayanat out of the UAE Armed Forces and turned it into a commercial company over a decade ago.
Bayanat is now majority owned by UAE-based artificial intelligence and cloud provider G42, which Mubadala partly owns.
Under plans announced Dec. 19, Bayanat and Yahsat shareholders would take a 54% and 46% share of Space42, respectively, if the deal closes as planned in the second half of 2024.
Mansoor Al Mansoori, who chairs the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi and is a former chairman of Bayanat, would be chair of Space42. Bakheet Al Katheeri, CEO of Mubadala’s UAE Investments platform, would be vice chairman of the merged group.
“This merger will unite two leading home-grown companies to create the MENA [Middle East and Africa] region’s first AI-powered space technology company,” Al Mansoori said in a news release, which did not elaborate on the role artificial intelligence could play in the combined company.
In May, Yahsat and Bayanat teamed up to order five UAE-focused synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites from Finnish Earth observation operator Iceye, with the first targeting launch in the first quarter of 2024.
Bayanat said it planned to perform geospatial analytics and develop AI algorithms for the SAR data, leveraging Yahsat’s satellite infrastructure backbone.
Yahsat currently provides broadband, video broadcasting, backhaul, and mobile voice and data services in the region with a fleet of five geostationary satellites, with three more connectivity-focused spacecraft in the pipeline.
E-Space has said it would also use advances in AI technology to improve connectivity services, although there have been few details about its proposed constellation of hundreds of thousands of satellites since coming out of stealth mode February 2022 with $50 million in seed financing.
The venture announced a partnership in March to develop AI technology for managing data traffic across its planned space-based network and Emirati telco e&’s ground infrastructure.
After deploying three prototypes in low Earth orbit in 2022, E-Space had hoped to begin serial production this year for a constellation it describes as an intelligent network for connecting Internet of Things (IoT) devices, but has not provided an update on these plans.
E-Space CEO Greg Wyler founded medium Earth orbit broadband operator O3b Networks, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of SES during Sabbagh’s tenure as CEO of the Luxembourg-based satellite operator.
Sabbagh confirmed in a LinkedIn message that he had left E-Space to focus on efforts to establish Space42.
Bayanat and Yahsat are listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange and plan to hold a shareholder meeting to approve the merger in the first three months of 2024.