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Saudi Arabia signals intent with space sector shake-up

Astronaut Saudi Space Agency
Ali AlQarni was one of two Saudi astronauts to complete a historic mission to the International Space Station last month
  • Space Commission relaunched as Saudi Space Agency
  • Global space tech industry expected to be worth $10trn by 2030
  • Saudi astronauts hailed as ‘example for the next generation

The launch of the Saudi Space Agency puts the kingdom on a trajectory to become one of the biggest players in the global space race, experts say.

The agency has replaced the Saudi Space Commission and will focus on space science and exploratory missions, creating new opportunities and, according to its website, “empowering national cadres to achieve growth and progress”.

Chairman Abdullah Al-Swaha said the launch was a “qualitative leap” for the kingdom’s space ambitions.

The global space tech industry was worth about $4.5 trillion in 2021 and is expected to reach $10 trillion by 2030, according to SpaceTech Analytics.

Dmitry Kaminskiy, general partner at tech specialist Deep Knowledge Group, said the announcement of the new agency was an “important milestone” in Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a key player in the global space market. 

He said it would “boost investments, create new job opportunities and foster international collaborations in the space sector”.

“By capitalising on this momentum, the kingdom has the potential to propel itself to the forefront of the international space race and emerge as a major force in shaping the future of space technology and exploration,” added Kaminskiy.

“Although they are in an earlier stage of their space-sector development than the Emiratis, the Saudis are now moving fast,” said Bayly Winder, non resident scholar from the Middle East Institute’s strategic technologies and cyber security programme.

“They are asserting themselves by making rapidly bold moves. The combination of money being invested into the space programme and buy-in from the highest levels of government is potent.” 

US defence giant Lockheed Martin last month announced the appointment of retired brigadier general Abdullah Alajmi as its new space business development director for Saudi Arabia.

Winder believes this could be the first of many such announcements.

“A lot of foreign companies see the opportunity to play a role in a Saudi space industry that has serious momentum and is, in some ways, taking off right now,” he told AGBI.

Adult, Female, PersonSaudi Space Agency
Rayyanah Barnawi is a biomedical researcher and the first Saudi female astronaut

Saudi Space Agency’s launch coincided with the return home of astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni, who completed a historic mission to the International Space Station last month.

It said the pair were “an example to follow for the next Saudi generation”.

Barnawi and AlQarni’s mission comes three years after Saudi Arabia announced a $2.1 billion allocation to its space programme as part of its Vision 2030 ambitions.

Plans include the Saudi Space Accelerator Programme, which aims to attract 20 startups in the fields of space tourism, exploration, satellite communication and space photography.

Other GCC countries are also vying to take a slice of the space market.

In late 2022, the UAE’s Rashid Rover, the first Arab-built lunar spacecraft, was launched from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Kuwait launched its first satellite in June 2021, while Qatar’s Es’hailSat satellite company signed a partnership deal with Axess Networks in Spain.

Bahrain has also unveiled plans for its first ‘Made in Bahrain’ satellite.