Falcon 9 Transporter-2 launch
Lynk's fifth test satellite deployed successfully following the June 30 Falcon 9 launch of the Transporter-2 mission. Credit: SpaceX

DUBAI, U.A.E. — SpaceX has won a contract to launch an Emirati high-resolution imaging satellite on a Falcon 9 rideshare mission in 2023.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) announced at an Oct. 27 press conference here, held during the 72nd International Astronautical Congress, that it selected SpaceX to launch its MBZ SAT satellite in the second half 2023. The center did not disclose the value of the contract.

Salem AlMarri, deputy director general of MBRSC, said the center looked at several launch providers for the mission. “At the end of the day, we look, for each mission, what is best. For this mission, SpaceX was the best.”

Amer Al Sayegh Al Ghafri, project manager for MBZ SAT at MBRSC, said the center considered reliability, cost and “opportunity,” or schedules, of various launch providers. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to find the right opportunity or the right time,” he said.

SpaceX stood out because of the reliability of the Falcon 9 and a “very competitive cost” for launching MBZ SAT through SpaceX’s rideshare program, which offers a regular series of dedicated rideshare launches. “MBZ SAT will be one of possibly many other spacecraft on that launch.”

The contract illustrates the challenges that small launch vehicle developers face competing against SpaceX. With a mass of 700 kilograms, MBZ SAT is within the range of several small launch vehicles under development and expected to be in service by 2023. However, the combination of Falcon 9’s track record and low cost outweighed any benefits of selecting a dedicated launch on a smaller rocket.

MBZ SAT is a successor to KhalifaSat, the first imaging satellite built entirely in the U.A.E. Al Ghafri said the new satellite, operating in a 500-kilometer orbit, will have a resolution nearly twice as sharp as KhalifaSat, which has an advertised panchromatic resolution of 70 centimeters.

“With this MBZ SAT project, what we are looking at is to make the U.A.E. a major, leading country in the development of space systems,” he said, using the briefing to highlight several companies in the U.A.E. that are developing structures and electronics for the spacecraft. “MBZ SAT will be one of the most advanced satellites in the world and one of the best in its class.”

The satellite’s design is nearly complete, he said, with a critical design review scheduled for later this quarter. He declined to give the overall cost of the project.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...