SAN FRANCISCO — The anticipated launch of DubaiSat-2, a 330-kilogram Earth observation satellite, marks an important step in the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology’s (EIAST) effort to bring spacecraft technology and expertise to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In contrast to EIAST’s first Earth observation spacecraft, DubaiSat-1, which South Korea’s Satrec Initiative took the lead in developing before its 2009 launch on a Russian Dnepr rocket, EIAST engineers played a more active role in building DubaiSat-2. A team of UAE engineers worked with Satrec Initiative to jointly develop, test and integrate DubaiSat-2, which is scheduled to travel Nov. 21 on a Russian Dnepr rocket from the Yasny launch site in Russia into a circular sun-synchronous orbit 600 kilometers above Earth, said Salem Al Marri, EIAST assistant director general for scientific and technical affairs. 

By the time DubaiSat-3 launches, EIAST hopes to have “full capabilities, knowledge, facilities and research ability to develop advanced satellite missions on UAE soil,” Al Marri said by email. “As you can expect, DubaiSat-3 is critically important as it will test our own satellite manufacturing capabilities and will ultimately give us vital insights that will help us further improve our future satellite development programs.”

EIAST was established in 2006 to help foster a culture of advanced scientific research and technical innovation in the Emirate of Dubai and UAE as a whole. “By providing training and hands-on experience, we were confident of bolstering Emirati engineers’ capacity to contribute to technological breakthroughs and earn distinction as the regional leaders in this field,” Al Marri said. “We don’t want to be a user of technologies but a contributor, this is where we hope to be heading.”

EIAST engineers obtained training in satellite development through their partnership with Satrec Initiative, a company based in South Korea with extensive experience building Earth observation satellites and related platforms, electro-optical instruments, components and ground stations. Satrec Initiative also provides services including Earth observation image processing, training and consulting for organizations seeking to build their own satellite systems. 

Initially, EIAST turned to Satrec Initiative to acquire the fundamental skills needed to develop small satellites.  

EIAST at a Glance

Top Officials: Chairman of the Board Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori and Director General H.E. Yousuf Al Shaibani

Established: 2006

Personnel: 75 employees, including 50 engineers

Mission: To enable the UAE to effectively use and exploit space science technologies and applications by establishing a recognized center of excellence in the field of space science and programs

“Satrec Initiative shared a vision with EIAST from the beginning of the DubaiSat-1 program that capacity and human resource building was the prime objective, not to mention the successful operation of the satellite,” said Byungjin Kim, Satrec Initiative president and chief executive.

That partnership grew with DubaiSat-2. For DubaiSat-3, EIAST has taken a leadership role, including overseeing program management and systems engineering. Satrec Initiative is acting in a consulting position and offering temporary technical support, Kim said by email.

As EIAST has taken on greater responsibility, the satellites and on-board instruments have become more sophisticated. 

“Broadly speaking, the difference between the satellites boils down to the capacity and camera features,” Al Marri said. 

DubaiSat-1 carries an optical camera that observes a 20-kilometer swath. It captures images with 2.5-meter resolution and gathers data in four sensor bands: red, green, blue and near-infrared.

DubaiSat-2 carries an electro-optical instrument designed to observe a 12.2-kilometer swath. It will provide 1-meter ground resolution for panchromatic imagery and 4-meter resolution for multispectral imagery, Al Marri said.

DubaiSat-3, which is expected to weigh less than 350 kilograms, will feature an electro-optical camera designed to offer 0.7-meter resolution from an altitude of 600 kilometers. In addition to its new instrument, DubaiSat-3 will download data more quickly and offer greater computing capability than its predecessors, Al Marri said. 

In preparation for DubaiSat-3, EIAST is developing satellite manufacturing facilities including laboratories and a clean room at its headquarters in Dubai. DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 were developed in Satrec Initiatives facilities in South Korea. Initially, DubaiSat-3 also will be built in South Korea. Midway through the project, however, it will be transferred to EIAST’s manufacturing center in Dubai, Al Marri said. 

In the wake of DubaiSat-3, EIAST plans to perform satellite development and manufacturing work in the UAE. EIAST will have the know-how to develop a fourth satellite on its own, contribute to the field of space technology and make an impact on the industry through the skills it provides, Al Marri said. 

EIAST satellite programs also are designed to contribute to the UAE’s overall economy, which has relied in the past on natural resources, construction and tourism. UAE leaders recognize that they need to bring more technology-based industries into the economy, said Danielle Wood, researcher at the Johns Hopkins University’s Systems Institute. 

When EIAST was established, its leaders evaluated various technological sectors before deciding to focus on Earth observation satellites. They settled on that strategy because in addition to helping local workers gain experience in systems engineering, structural analysis, electro-optical engineering and software development, the satellites would provide imagery with applications for environmental management, urban planning and disaster response, Wood said in an email sent from Dubai, where she was attending a United Nations-UAE symposium, “Small Satellite Missions for Developing Space Nations.” 

“The motivations for EIAST to pursue small satellite projects are multi-faceted,” Wood said. “It includes a desire to train engineers, bring attention to technology in the nation, experience many engineering disciplines in a hands-on activity, generate useful Earth observation imagery, enhance the national facilities for advanced manufacturing, generate spinoff technology or economic activities, create links to local universities, and become involved with a growing network of international organizations that collaborate in space projects.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is...