By Jamil Kawar, VP for Missions in the Middle East and North Africa for ICEYE
Over the last decade, the United Arab Emirates has launched a range of initiatives to reduce its reliance on oil and gas and evolve the economy to become more knowledge-based, and technology-driven. The diversification strategy has seen government-led investment across a variety 0f promising sectors, including an emerging space tech sector. On Emirati Women’s Day, as we recognise the accomplishments of the UAE’s women and consider how we can support their ambitions for the future, I would like to highlight the growing range of opportunities for ambitious people in the UAE’S flourishing space tech industry.
The UAE Space Agency was founded in 2014 to drive space science research and exploration in the country. The country aims to develop a world-class national space sector that supports sustainable development and promotes young Emiratis to become space scientists and technology pioneers. Collaborative research, development, and public / private partnerships will be instrumental in realising these objectives.
In recent years, the UAE has put the first Emirati into space, landed a spacecraft on Mars, and launched a AED 3 billion National Space Fund to support the growth of its space economy. These kinds of initiatives are opening up opportunities for Emirati career development that simply did not exist before.
The National Space Fund’s first tranche of investment was in a constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites. Earlier generations of traditional commercial satellite services would have required three years to launch, and come with costs in the millions and devices weighing tonnes. In contrast, today’s New Space satellites are purpose-built to be smaller, more affordable and launch-ready in a matter of months, enabling governments and businesses to own their own fleets.
SAR satellites can see through clouds, smoke, and even take images of the ground at night. Governments and businesses with access to the images benefit from persistent coverage of events on the ground in all weather conditions.
For a country with the geographical circumstances of the UAE, a constellation of SAR satellites can drive a wide range of applications — for instance, in detecting and planning responses to oil spills and seeps; in monitoring port and marine infrastructure, including cargo shipments and oil storage volume; and generating actionable intelligence on maritime activities.
The SAR satellite programme is a step towards developing a broader space-ecosystem in the UAE, which will deliver a range of strategic benefits for the nation — such as enhancing data privacy and sovereignty, and further building resident capabilities for space exploration.
The UAE recognises that to succeed in any industry amid tough international competition, it’s vital that the nation can capitalise on all the talent it has at its disposal. Accordingly, it has made a national priority of expanding women’s participation in economic development, and made great strides in tackling gender inequality in the workplace. The UAE is now ranked first in the Middle East and North Africa, and 24th globally for women’s inclusion, justice and security. And of the UAE’s graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), 41% are women.
In order for the UAE to consolidate its place at the forefront of the New Space tech industry, I would urge the Emirate’s female scientists and engineers to consider the contributions that they could make to the sector. And to all visionary Emirati women inspired by the possibilities of space exploration and technological innovation, I extend a heartfelt invitation to embark on a transformative journey with us at ICEYE in the UAE. As we continue to shape the future of Earth observation through cutting-edge satellite technology, we are in search of trailblazers who are eager to push boundaries, challenge norms, and contribute their unique expertise to our growing dynamic team in the UAE