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June 17, 2020

How space technologies help during COVID-19 and what’s new with UAE’s Space Agency

By ITU News

ITU News connected with Dr. Eng. Mohammed Nasser Al Ahbabi, Director General of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, who explained how space technologies are helping to fight the spread of COVID-19 and how the UAE Space Agency is innovating through the pandemic so to continue to enhance the growth of the space industry.

How do space technologies play a role in helping to limit the spread of COVID-19?

For more than 50 years, humans have been interested in space exploration. This, in turn, has resulted in many tangible societal benefits.

Looking at the world today, space has enabled technologies to play a crucial role in helping to limit the spread of COVID-19. Enhanced capabilities through satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation and other technologies have made an invaluable contribution to government and private sector efforts to combat the spread of the virus and help manage the movement and monitoring of people in an increasingly challenging environment.

The current circumstances highlight the massive contribution that the space sector is making in supporting and enabling frontline health professionals.

The health sector’s adoption of space technology is nothing new. For instance, in recent years, we’ve seen ultra-light robots being used for surgery and the production of artificial organs and prostheses. Space technologies have also supported with the identification and mobilization of healthcare workers, a crucial need for many governments as they strive to act swiftly, and combat spread of the virus. In the case of healthcare, it is predicted that the next five to 10 years will see massive disruptions in this arena, with artificial intelligence set to play an increasing role in diagnosis and treatment.

The current circumstances highlight the massive contribution that the space sector is making in supporting and enabling frontline health professionals to do their jobs more effectively and with greater efficiency. We see this in everything from satellite communications enabling doctors to connect to patients virtually to the launching of apps that use GPS satellite data and AI technologies to monitor the implementation of social distancing measures effectively and conveniently.

In China, BeiDou satellites are being employed to track the locations of infected patients and monitor cargo transportation to large-scale disinfection sites. The use of satellite technology in China is already having a substantial impact on limiting the spread of the virus and lowering the infection rates.

Space technologies have also provided the necessary infrastructure to enable remote learning systems, the transportation of goods between places, and IT systems that allow us to work from home and ensure as little disruption as possible to our lives as we practice social distancing.

What measures has the UAE Space Agency taken to utilize technology to manage COVID-19?

The UAE Space Agency has taken the utmost precautions in order to safeguard its employees and the wider public from the spread of the COVID-19 virus. All of our teams are adhering to the Department of Health directives on social distancing and are working remotely using video conferencing and other digital technologies to ensure the continuation of our projects and initiatives including the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe.

The UAE Space Agency has prioritized its digital transformation to be able to communicate and engage with the wider public and local and international partners remotely. Satellite communications technology, including that deployed by the UAE’s own operators, has already played a pivotal role in our ability to host webinars, virtual gatherings, and meetings.

What else is new with the UAE Space Agency?

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, we were able to quickly shift some of our original physical gatherings into online webinars and programs like the Global Space Industry Accelerator (GSIA) initiative, in collaboration with Krypto Labs. The UAE Space Agency is committed to promoting innovation and attracting new talent to contribute to the space sector and we aim to carry on inspiring our young entrepreneurs to be innovative and enabling them to contribute to the growth of the space industry, despite the current challenging situation.

As a part of our digital transformation, our NewSpace Innovation Program, part of GSIA, is now being conducted virtually with great success.

We are conducting webinars on space entrepreneurship, challenges and opportunities of NewSpace, and other topics to guide youth on how to become successful entrepreneurs in the space sector and create their own space start-ups. We also liaise with space experts on the best approaches to encourage youth to generate tech ideas for the further growth of the space sector.

The UAE Space Agency is committed to promoting innovation and attracting new talent to contribute to the space sector.

We are holding a virtual roadshow for the NewSpace Innovation Program, with a series of instructive online sessions as well as a Space Bootcamp to cater to a larger number of participants. The NewSpace incubation program is now also online, representing a virtual fully integrated innovation hub.

We are also continuing to work in line with the objectives of our National Space Strategy, UAE Space Investment Promotion Plan, Space Policy, and Space Law. All of which are contributing to UAE Centennial 2071, UAE Vision 2021, and the 4th Industrial Revolution Strategy, as we strive to build a sustainable economy and society in the UAE.

The UAE Space Agency is utilizing the knowledge and experience of Emirati students, academics, researchers, as well as a generation of experts from around the world, to explore Mars.

We continue to set ambitious targets and meet our goals, and despite COVID-19, we are able to communicate with our local, regional, and international partners through virtual meetings to discuss and develop initiatives and technologies for the space sector, and reduce the impact of the current situation on the sector’s future growth.

What are the Agency’s plans for future projects?

Despite the current situation, we still plan to achieve a historical milestone this year with the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe in July 2020 and subsequent entrance into Martian orbit in early 2021.

The UAE Space Agency is utilizing the knowledge and experience of Emirati students, academics, researchers, as well as a generation of experts from around the world, to explore Mars.

The Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe will study the harsh conditions on Mars and support our development of new technologies to combat resource scarcity and improve efficiency and sustainability on Earth.

The probe has a payload consisting of three scientific instruments, designed to collect an unprecedented volume of data regarding Mars’ atmosphere, and aims to take the first 24-hour picture of Mars’ climate throughout the Martian year. They include the EXI – The Emirates Exploration Imager- a panchromatic imager that will support the measurement of water, ice, dust, aerosols and ozone in the Martian atmosphere.

The EMIRS – The Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer- will measure global thermal structure as well as water ice, vapour and atmospheric dust. The EMUS – The Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer – measures the characteristics o9f the thermosphere as well as Mars’ extended hydrogen and oxygen coronae.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has finalized applications for the UAE Astronaut Program, which saw over 4,000 applicants among which 34 percent were female. The program aims to develop a national cadre of astronauts that can achieve the country’s aspirations by taking part in scientific and manned space missions.

We have 8 satellites that are currently being manufactured and we are collaborating with Arab engineers to manufacture the 813 Satellite as part of the Arab Space Cooperation Group, an initiative led by the UAE Space Agency, and comprising 14 Arab countries.

The 813 Satellite, the first collaborative project of the Arab Space Cooperation Group, is funded by the UAE Space Agency, and developed by Arab engineers at the state-of-the-art facilities at the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC).

The multi-spectral satellite is designed to monitor and measure the environmental and climatic elements in a number of Arab countries, as well as vegetation, soil types, minerals and water sources, measuring greenhouse gases, pollution and dust levels. Also, with a polar orbit of 600 kilometers, the data will be sent to a ground station in the UAE and receiving stations in some Arab countries for the benefit of a number of environmental authorities, municipalities and institutions concerned with the agricultural sector and urban planning industry.

So far, we have over AED 22 billion of investments in the UAE’s space sector, and the Global Space Accelerator initiative, the NewSpace program, along with other initiatives to encourage emerging startups and investment in the space sector.

How does the Agency work with ITU to help improve lives for Emiratis – and others in the region?

The UAE Space Agency is extremely proud of its relationship with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a working relationship since 1972 that has helped promote international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits and improving telecommunication networks and infrastructure in the UAE, the wider Arab World and developing economies.

The UAE Space Agency is extremely proud of its relationship with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Every time someone in the UAE uses technology that depends on satellite telecommunications, they are benefiting from the cooperation between the UAE Space Agency and the ITU.

Currently, the UAE operates 10 satellites through three operators (Thuraya Satellite Communication Company, Al Yah Satellite Communications Company, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre – MBRSC), covering and providing services in more than 140 countries.

These satellite network systems and the orbital positions of the satellites themselves have to be registered with the ITU, ensuring that they adhere to regulations regarding international telecommunication systems, networks and information and communication technologies (ICTs) that we all rely on daily.

The UAE is represented at all international events with the ITU and is key contributor to initiatives and frameworks that support the economic and social growth of the region through effective regulation and implementation of the latest technological advancements.

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How space technologies help during COVID-19 and what's new with UAE's Space Agency

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