A recent document from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry underlines that the space sector is set to be a key pillar of the UAE's economic growth over the next 50 years.
The text argues that the space field is following a strong trend towards privatisation, which favours the emergence of new trade opportunities from which the Gulf country should not be absent.
The report analyses the business possibilities that are opening up for the economy of the Emirates and identifies the ten areas that offer the greatest investment potential, which are space tourism, mining on the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies to extract rare earths and other valuable metals, the construction of orbital stations, robotic and human settlements outside the Earth and the encouragement of the installation of space industries in the country.
In addition to the above fields of activity, the company also manufactures components for satellites and spacecrafts, carries out projects for the sustainability and recycling of related equipment, develops standards for space law and creates companies and institutions to prepare astronauts for commercial flight.
The work led by Natalia Schyva, Entrepreneurship Manager at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, shows that while the public sector was once the engine of space technologies and their applications, that approach is changing rapidly. "We are at the turning point in the creation of a new industry that revolves around space," he says.
The stay of the Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori at the International Space Station in September 2019, the launch from Japan of the Al-Amal probe on its way to Mars in July this year and the launch on 28 September of the MeznSat - de 2 nano-satellite for environmental studies, 7 kilos and 10x10x30 centimetres - from the Russian cosmodrome in Plesetsk are revealed as important milestones in the Gulf country's bid to position itself as a leading player in the world of exploration, research and the space industry.
At the same time, they are a call to national and international investors to establish their companies in the Emirates or seek their collaboration. The country's prime minister and leader of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, wants the Emirates as a state, but also its private entrepreneurs, to take part in multinational space cooperation projects, all of which is aimed at promoting the diversification of the national economy.
Its sound finances provide easy access to very different fields of space activity, but mainly to large and costly projects such as the construction of space stations around the Earth or the moon and programmes for exploring the moon and Mars and setting up colonies on the surface of both stars. A third field that is more accessible is to participate in the creation of institutions for the training of professional or occasional astronauts who, like space tourists, want to have a weightless experience beyond the Earth.
It is evident that space was linked in previous decades to activities related to National Security, but as the document drawn up in Dubai reflects, there are fields that can be disassociated from the military scenario, with the result that space activities "are no longer led by countries and governments alone". One example is what happened in 2019, when "government investment in space increased by 1 per cent, while private sector funds grew by 6.3 per cent," the report stresses.
It is a fact that billionaires, entrepreneurs and industrial corporations from very different sectors have taken an interest in the space industry and made significant investments. The document cites as examples the initiatives of the North American Jeff Bezos - the founder and executive director of Amazon - owner of the space tourism company Blue Origin; and the British Richard Branson, creator of an entire group of commercial companies and also of Virgin Galactic, which aims to carry out manned suborbital space flights and the putting into orbit of small satellites.
Recent years have also seen an acceleration in public-private partnerships. Space agencies of the stature of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have changed their criteria and are now promoting access to emerging technologies developed by private companies.
The initiatives that are the result of public-private partnerships are reflected in projects as different as the capture of satellites in orbit to refuel them and put them back into operation, research in micro-gravity conditions for biomedical applications or wireless communications on board spacecraft. One of these is the great commitment of the South African-American Elon Musk - founder of PayPal and CEO of Tesla Motors - creator of SpaceX, a company dedicated to the manufacture and marketing of space launchers, which has faced up to the giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin and has managed to win important contracts from NASA and the Pentagon.