Interview: Yousuf Al Shaibani
How has the experience of launching DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 contributed to the development of the space industry in the UAE?
YOUSUF AL SHAIBANI: The capacity to develop our own satellite has come in three phases. First, in the initial phases of developing the centre for DubaiSat-1, we focused on partnering with sector companies to develop satellites on a technology and know-how transfer basis. The main goal was to eventually nationalise the development of our satellites. The second phase was joint development, which we accomplished with DubaiSat-2. These two stages made it possible for us to develop a highly qualified team of professionals, which is key for achieving the third phase: developing a satellite by ourselves. This is what we expect to achieve with KhalifaSat, a project where we have learned to follow the correct procedures in designing our own satellites, implementing those designs and testing them, this way making sure that we fully comply with National Aeronautics and Space Administration and European Space Agency standards.
What role do you see small and medium-sized enterprises playing in the development of the Emirates Mars Mission?
SHAIBANI: Now that we have developed our own capabilities we are starting to look in-house, and we will start to work with local suppliers and support them, so that they can get a space-edge in the products and services they have to offer, not only for the Emirates Mars Mission, but for all the missions that we hope to launch in the future.
There is an opportunity for companies in the global space industry to set up shop in the UAE, as the government has made an effort to develop a local space sector. However, companies should not expect to live off the UAE space sector alone. The smart move would be for them to come to Dubai and use it as a hub for working with governments in the region.
How is the UAE addressing the challenge of developing the necessary human capital to adequately expand the domestic space industry?
SHAIBANI: One important signal that we should look at is the fact that Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the chairman of the UAE Space Agency, is also the minister of higher education. This is no coincidence, and there are plenty of other synergies there. A significant number of students coming out of the higher education system need to enter high-tech sectors such as the space industry. In this vein, the government has also invested a great deal of money in developing a space centre in UAE University.
We have also managed to win the rights to stage the International Astronautical Congress to Dubai in 2020. This will be the first time that an event of this magnitude has happened in the Arab and Muslim world, so we are encouraging countries in the region to participate. The event has the potential to act as a magnet for further investments and human capital.
What is the impact of international cooperation in the development of a domestic space industry?
SHAIBANI: In today’s space industry, international cooperation is essential to achieving goals. We try to make sure that our projects support our domestic industry, but also supplement and act as a multiplier to what is happening internationally. An example of this is the Emirates Mars Mission, which will be doing something unique in terms of studying Mars. This mission will add to what previous missions from countries like the US and China have already accomplished, and will provide new insight into the future objectives for Mars, which, among other things, includes sending humans to the red planet.
Going forward, everything we do must be done in-house. We are expanding all of our facilities here in the UAE so that any project, except for launch, can be done from beginning to end inside the country.
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