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A GCC spaceport could bring galactic gains

It would support the development of the space economy in its multiple dimensions

There are almost 10,000 satellites in orbit, and sectors such as utilities, transportation and water will be increasingly managed from space Nasa
There are almost 10,000 satellites in orbit, and sectors such as utilities, transportation and water will be increasingly managed from space

The quest to “go where no man has gone before” is about to become ubiquitous. The global commercial space economy is expected to grow to more than $1.8 trillion by 2035, according to the World Economic Forum and McKinsey.

It’s no surprise that the GCC is eyeing the wider universe as key to broadening its economy, logistics and transport capacity.

As early signatories for the Artemis Accords – US-led norms for outer space development –  the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are leading regional extraterrestrial exploration efforts with commercialisation in mind. 

The Emirates launched its Hope probe in 2020, sent the Rashid Rover to the Moon in 2022 and plans a mission to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter by 2028.

The GCC is also increasing its investments in the satellite industry, including the UAE’s Yahsat and Qatar’s Es’hailSat companies. Bahrain and Kuwait launched their first satellites in 2021, while Oman hosts a satellite monitoring station. 

Furthermore, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have founded national space agencies and Oman recently launched its 10-year space programme.  

With the advent of advanced space transport and logistics systems, global space-based production and commercial space transportation is becoming a reality.

Space-based technologies already support many earth-based activities, ranging from day-to-day telecommunications and satellite-based internet connectivity in remote locations to GPS for navigation and TV broadcasting. There are around 9,900 active satellites in various Earth orbits.

In addition, worldwide government expenditures in space defence and security reached a historic high of more than $58 billion in 2023 and is accelerating in response to geopolitical fragmentation.

As technology progresses, core earth-based infrastructure networks such as utilities, transportation and water will be increasingly managed and monitored from space. 

As for the GCC, space transportation will complement its already sizeable investments in earthly air and sea logistics infrastructure. Transport and logistics systems will become four-dimensional: land, water, air and space will be integrated. 

The value of space data 

Global space technology investments touched all-time highs of more than $70 billion in 2021 and 2022, according to a study from WEF-McKinsey.

Given the growing strategic importance of the space economy, the GCC should build its own spaceport, from which it can launch satellites and spacecraft as part of its wider space strategies. Indeed, Oman recently announced plans to develop a spaceport by 2030.

WEF-McKinsey forecasts that five sectors will drive 60 percent of the global space economy by 2035: supply chain and transport management, food and drink, state-sponsored defence surveillance, retail and e-commerce, and digital communications for better connectivity. 

A GCC spaceport would support the development of the space economy in its multiple dimensions

What’s more, from a sustainability and climate monitoring standpoint, space-derived data is increasingly used in environmental monitoring and mitigating risks. 

As climate change accelerates, space-based applications can manage climate modelling, storm forecasting, precision farming, autonomous driving, the ability to identify and quantify emissions sources, as well as space-based solar power plants.

The financial services sector can leverage space technologies too. Insurance firms can use risk modelling to inform policies, or geolocation to track harvests, flows of goods and impact trading markets.

Satellite data can be used to monitor compliance with the growing ESG market and “green finance” investments.

The GCC’s geographic proximity to the equator provides a comparative advantage for locating a spaceport, providing low escape velocity from Earth.

The region can also be pitched as a geopolitically neutral hub, providing a reliable partner for the global space industry and countries wanting to access space, amid growing world tensions.

A GCC spaceport would support the development of the space economy in its multiple dimensions, enable commercial launch and space-located activities, as well as protect space related assets. 

The focus on commercial space activities would also be complemented by space economy lending, such as financing for satellites, space launches and space-related activities.

Satellites and networks are increasingly becoming geostrategic assets. Infrastructure – whether earth-based, sub-space or space-based – is becoming vulnerable to disruption or attack. 

Perhaps most crucially, a GCC spaceport is integral to national security, providing the infrastructure for the launch of space vehicles, as well as missiles.  

Dr Nasser Saidi is the president of Nasser Saidi and Associates. He was formerly chief economist and head of external relations at the DIFC Authority, Lebanon’s economy minister and a vice-governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon

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