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MBRSC: From then to now

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DUBAI, 6th February, 2022 (WAM) — “Our exploration of space is only beginning: more missions are on the way. We will continue investing in building our space science, engineering, astronauts, and spacecraft. Big number of the stars in our night sky are named in Arabic – once again the Arabs can look to the stars.” The above are the words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, tweeted last year after the announcement of yet another seminal space exploration mission from the UAE.

For a nation as young as the UAE, the achievements that have been garnered in the field of space over the past 50 years has been nothing short of extraordinary – from launching multiple satellites into space, getting the first Emirati to space and even successfully sending the first Arab interplanetary mission to Mars, among others. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has been an integral part of these milestones, having helped achieve these in the span of a decade and a half.

Origins The journey of MBRSC did not begin with the name that is currently synonymous with space exploration in the UAE. In 2006, the Emirates Institute for Advanced Science and Technology (EISAT) was established based on a government decree. The strategic initiative was aimed at inspiring scientific innovation and fostering technological advancement in the UAE, while promoting sustainable development and enhancing economic growth in the UAE and beyond.

The now ubiquitous MBRSC nomenclature came into being in 2015, when H.H. Sheikh Mohammed issued a law establishing the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, to support the country’s efforts in the space field and establish an integrated infrastructure for space related technology, research and industries.

Early days Over the past 16 years, MBRSC has gone on to undertake multiple projects that have catapulted it into one of the most active space centres in the world. Within just 3 years of its establishment, the Centre was able to send its first Earth-observation satellite, the DubaiSat-1 to space. The satellite was built by Emirati engineers in collaboration South Korea’s Satrec Initiative. Images from DubaiSat-1 have been used to monitor the overall development of mega projects like the Palm Islands and Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai. Satellite imagery from the satellite were also used to monitor relief efforts during 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Following the success of DubaiSat-1, the second satellite, DubaiSat-2 was launched in 2013. The satellite was built with a predominantly Emirati team of engineers and played a major scientific role in the knowledge development journey of MBRSC and its engineers, incorporating innovative specifications and technology that surpassed the capabilities of its predecessor.

The following year, in a first of its kind announcement, UAE announced its first inter-planetary mission to Mars. The mission subsequently came to be known as the Emirates Mars Mission and the Hope Probe is synonymous with the aspirations and inspirations of the country. The mission launched to space in 2020, and reached the orbit of Mars in 2021, where it has since then delivered some never-before-seen data about the weather and phenomenon on the Red Planet.

In 2017, MBRSC collaborated with educational institutions, primarily the American University of Sharjah, as part of the sustainable space science knowledge transfer programme and launched the UAE’s first nanosatellite – the Nayif-1. The projects heralded a new era at the Centre, allowing Emirati engineering students hands-on experience in the design, manufacture, integration, installation and operation of small satellites. MBRSC has explored a number of educational programmes since then, conducting space explorer camps, school tours, space project competitions, research experience for undergraduates and research grant programmes and the Emirates Mars Mission teacher ambassador programme, among others. All these outreach programmes have spiked the interest in STEM subjects among the youth and created a growing base of science-led academia in the country.

Heading to space 2017 also witnessed the initiation of the UAE Astronaut Programme by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed. In 2018, the first two Emirati astronauts, Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi, were handpicked from over 4,000 applicants. Hazzaa went on to make history as the first Emirati in space, when he set off on an 8-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft on 25 September 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility.

The astronauts for the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme was announced in 2021, comprising of the first female Arab astronaut – Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla. The UAE Astronaut Programme is one of the projects managed by the UAE’s National Space Programme and funded by the ICT Fund of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA), which aims to support research and development in the ICT sector in the UAE and promote the country’s integration on the global stage.

Taking lead Moving back to the satellite programme, in October 2018, MBRSC launched the first 100% UAE-designed and manufactured Earth observation satellite, the KhalifaSat. KhalifaSat cemented the country’s position amongst the world’s leading space technology manufacturers and its role in actively contributing valuable satellite imaging data to human progress. The Centre is a part of the International Disaster Charter and Sentinel Asia, and the high-resolution mages captured by the KhalifaSat have played a crucial role in disaster relief and management globally.

The UAE’s second nanosatellite, DMSat-1, the first nanometric environmental satellite, developed by Dubai Municipality in collaboration with MBRSC was launched in March 2021, displaying yet another successful inter-governmental project.

Taking the next step in the programme, in October 2020, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed announced a new satellite project called MBZ-SAT, which will become the second Emirati satellite to be fully developed and built by a team of Emirati engineers after the KhalifaSat. To be developed at the MBRSC, the MBZ-SAT is expected to be launched in 2023 and will be the most advanced commercial satellite in the region in the field of high-resolution satellite imagery.

Mars and beyond Driven by the passion of UAE’s wise leadership to unveil new knowledge, in 2017, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed directed MBRSC to lead the country’s ambitious project to build the first human settlement on Mars by 2117, in collaboration with major international space institutions. The Mars 2117 project represents a major ongoing contribution to humanity’s interplanetary endeavours, and includes projects like the Emirates Lunar Mission, the UAE Analog Mission and Space Ventures.

The Emirates Lunar Mission includes the development and launch of the first Emirati lunar rover named ‘Rashid’, after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, builder of modern Dubai. The explorer will be designed and built in the UAE by 100 percent Emirati team of engineers, experts, and researchers. If successful, the UAE will become the first Arab country and the fourth country in the world to land on the lunar surface after the United States, Soviet Union, and China. During its mission, the Lunar Rover will conduct numerous scientific tests on the surface of the Moon that will contribute to making qualitative developments in the fields of science, communication technologies and robotics. Furthermore, the impact of these developments will extend beyond the space sector and into various vital sectors in the national and global economy.

In August 2021, MBRSC announced the selection of the first Emirati analog astronauts, Abdallah AlHammadi and Saleh AlAmeri, for the UAE Analog Mission#1 that forms part of the Scientific International Research in Unique Terrestrial Station (SIRIUS) SIRIUS 20/21, an 8-month analog mission that is being conducted at the NEK ground-based analogue facility in Moscow, Russia. Saleh AlAmeri has begun the mission and is currently studying the effects of isolation and confinement on human psychology, physiology and team dynamics to help prepare for long-duration space exploration.

Future is collaborative With the future of space exploration and research hinging on collaborative efforts, Space Venture’s was launched by MBRSC as a launchpad for promising startups in the space sector by partnering with them on long-term projects, exposing them to funding, and providing them with the regulatory know-how and technology to attain viability and sustainable growth for the future.

Salem Humaid AlMarri, Director General, MBRSC, said: “MBRSC has had an eventful 16 years, laden with a number of historical achievements. We are optimistic about the future but must also come to terms with the formidable challenges that confront us all. Resources are not limitless, but our imagination and drive to succeed aren’t. We will continue to challenge ourselves and identify opportunities to inspire and discover the next generation of innovators and innovations that will infuse a new sense of purpose, optimism and dynamism in the Emirati space sector.”

In the first week of October, MBRSC released 110 Gigabytes of new data about Mars’ atmosphere from the Emirates Mars Mission to the public for the first time. Similarly, through global strategic partnerships with leaders in in the field, the Centre has also set the foundation for fostering generations of astronauts, scientists and innovators which will assure our continuous development in the space sector, both locally and internationally. MBRSC is also working with multiple partners for the Emirates Lunar Mission as well as the MBZ-SAT.

MBRSC was also the host for the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) 2021, held in the Middle East for the first time in Dubai. Hosting the IAC 2021 was also key to fostering a collaborative space ecosystem, placing an impactful footprint, and establishing pivotal alliances and building bridges of knowledge with leading international space organisations and agencies for the betterment of mankind.

“Future generations will be living in a world that is very different from that to which we are accustomed. It is essential that we prepare ourselves and our children for that new world.” These words of the founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, rings true to the transformative roles that MBRSC has donned over the past decade and a half. His vision and dream adopted by the wise leadership of this country that has helped mould the UAE into what it is today and will continue to do so for years to come.

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