From the Desert to Space

Salem Al Marri, the Head of the UAE Astronaut Programme at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) talked to the New Defence Order. Strategy magazine about the first ever Emirati mission to the International Space Station (ISS). 

In September 2018, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum named Hazza Al-Mansouri and Sutlan Al-Neyadi as the first Emirati astronauts to go on this mission who will “raise the bar of ambition for future Emirati generations”. On 25 September 2019, the spacecraft Soyuz MS-15   was successfully launched carrying 3 members of the Expedition 61 crew to the ISS from the Baiknour Cosmodrome. Hazza Al Mansouri is not only the first astronapht to ISS, he is the very first Arab to make his misson there.

Mr. Al Marri talking to Hazzaa AlMansoori together with MBRSC Center Photo credit: MBRSC Instagram

- What are the key milestones for the Emirates Space Program?

We started 15 years ago, at time the main focus was building satellites in the United Arab Emirates, collaborating with both governmental and non-governmental sectors. The first step was with the knowledge transfer programme to get satellite technology. The result was DubaiSat 1 then DubaiSat 2, after which we successfully manufactured the first 100% UAE-made satellite; Khalifa Sat. The DubaiSat 1 and the DubaiSat 2 were launched aboard the Russian rocket Dnepr in 2009 and 2013 respectively with the aid of Russian expertise, thus succeeding in the indigenization of technology.

We’ve been working on the Mars Hope Mission for six years now to build the Amal (translates to “Hope” in Arabic) probe which will be hopefully launched in 2020 from Japan, making it the first Arab mission ever to reach Mars.  In April 2017, we launched the UAE Astronaut Programme. We received more than 4000 applications from people who wanted to be astronauts, two of whom were selected; Haza’a Al-Mansouri and Sultan Al-Niadi. Roscosmos was a very important partner along the whole process from selecting the astronauts, to training them, to launching the mission and using the Russian part of the International Space Station (ISS).

- How would you describe your cooperation with Roscosmos and how was it different from cooperating with your European or the American partners?

Cooperation was uniquely different with all of them, they were all very good. Roscosmos was very cooperative, they stood by us at different events. Flexibility is a key word when describing our experience with Roscosmos. We have had problems scheduling the launch to space after the Soyuz MS-10 failure, but they were very flexible and helped us set a date for sending Haza’a Al-Mansouri to space. Although signing contracts and sealing deals often implies adaptability and strong relations, it is not until time crises that the strength of these relationships is best tested. We have had difficulties last year, that was the time we realized the resilience of our relationship with Roscosmos. Simply, our cooperation with Roscosmos was outstandingly fruitful.

- Where are you on the Mars 2117 program? Are you still planning on launching it in Summer 2020?

Mars 2117 is a strategic programme for the Emirates to be a part of the humanity’s endeavor to reach Mars in 100 years and build an inhabitable city on the planet. We have five-year plans when it comes to research and development expenditures focused on space-related issues and studying the human life sustainability on Mars and on the Moon. Our first project is “Mars Science City”. It’s a place where all the research related to energy, water and food can be conducted because these are the three main elements that should be addresses when we talk about people living in space. The Mars Science City will be launched after two years in Dubai, with focus on studies simulating Mars environment and analog studies as well. It will be a platform for international cooperation with various partners.

- Khalifa Sat was 100% UAE-made. Was it based on a certain prototype?

Khalifa Sat was completely designed in UAE. Part of the technology used to make it was developed in the UAE, the other part was bought from different countries around the world including Russian technology; we did not make the whole thing from scratch. This is exactly like car manufacturing, you design the car and the engine, but you buy the tires because they require a special know-how and it would but more convenient than manufacturing them. Khalifa Sat includes many Russian parts like the gyroscope, but the overall design and layout was completely Emirati.

  • At what stage of development is the Mars 2117 program today?
  • How does the first Arab country whose astronaut visited the International Space Station assess his responsibility to the world?

Read the interview in full in the next issue of the magazine "New Defense Order. Strategy".

 

by Reem Mohamed

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