The United Arab Emirates (UAE) air force expects to award a contract for one or more high-resolution optical Earth observation satellites as early as this year after selecting U.S. and European finalists from 11 companies vying for the work, a UAE air force official said Sept. 13.

Col. Ali Mohammed Al Shehhi, ground station manager for the air force’s Space Reconnaissance Center, said the UAE satellite effort may seem slow-moving but is very much alive.

Al Shehhi declined to specify the system’s architecture beyond the fact that it would feature high-resolution optical imagers.

“We are in the final stages of awarding a contract,” Al Shehhi said here during World Satellite Business Week conference organized by Euroconsult. He said export restrictions that in the past have made it difficult for prospective bidders, especially from the United States, have become less restrictive.

The satellite ground station in the UAE currently receives images from several optical Earth observation satellites, including Ikonos from U.S.-based GeoEye, India’s IRS spacecraft and South Korea’s Kompsat.