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Emirates space agency names astronaut for 6-month ISS mission

UAE astronaut Sultan Al Nayedi Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre
Sultan Al Nayedi has trained in the UAE and with NASA for his mission
  • Sultan Al Neyadi to leave for International Space Station in spring 2023
  • Astronaut is ‘honourable model for Emirati and Arab youth’ – president
  • UAE’s burgeoning space sector given $816m boost last week

The UAE has named the astronaut who will undertake the Emirates’ first long-term mission to space.

Sultan Al Neyadi, 41, will spend six months on the International Space Station in a mission set for launch in spring 2023, reaffirming the UAE’s position in the global space race 

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, its vice president and prime minister and the ruler of Dubai, said in a joint statement that Al Neyadi was an “honourable model for the Emirati and Arab youth.”

They added that the UAE was strengthening its stature in the space sector, thanks to its people’s determination and ambition. The UAE will be the 11th country to participate in a long-term space mission.

Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan tweeted on Monday: “With the support of our leaders and the enthusiasm of our youth, there is no limit to the ceiling of our ambitions… Proud of astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.”

The announcement comes a week after the UAE launched a AED3 billion ($816.8 million) fund to support its space programme and an initiative to develop radar satellites.

In 2018, Al Neyadi and Hazza Al Mansouri, 38, were selected from 4,022 candidates to become the first Emirati astronauts.

The pair went through the UAE astronaut programme at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and, in September 2019, Al Mansouri became the first Emirati in space, flying to the ISS for an eight-day mission.

For his six-month stay at the ISS, Al Neyadi has also trained at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre.

The UAE’s astronaut programme is part of a recent shift in power in the spacetech sector, following the success of its unmanned Mars mission. The Hope probe was sent to the red planet in July 2020 to study weather events in its lower atmosphere.

The UAE also plans to develop a lunar rover and send it to the moon by 2024. The aim of this mission is to study the thermal properties of the lunar surface and the formation and components of the lunar soil. It is designed to pave the way for discoveries that contribute to the development of science and specialised high-precision technologies in the space sector.

The lunar mission was announced in September 2020 and is one of the key components of the space centre’s strategy for 2021-2031, which aims to build new international knowledge partnerships and develop Emirati capabilities in space exploration and technologies.

Alex Cresniov, director of Deep Knowledge Analytics, said the UAE might reach its goal of becoming space-independent within a decade. He also believes the UAE may build its own launch pad.

The likes of Masdar City Space Economic Zone, tech start-up accelerator Hub71, SpaceChain and Zin Technologies are key facilitators in the region, Cresniov said, enabling the creation of a competitive private space sector, boosting research and development and encouraging entrepreneurship.

International collaboration is also important. The Emirates Mars mission has recently announced a partnership with NASA’s Maven mission, which completed its Mars orbit insertion in 2014. The link-up aims to pave the way towards greater scientific collaboration and data exchange.

The global space tech industry was worth about $4.5 trillion in 2021. This figure is expected to reach $10 trillion by 2030.

According to the most conservative estimates by SpaceTech Analytics, the sector accounts for 5 percent of global GDP.