The world's largest science, technology and space exploration event opened today in Dubai, the largest city in the Union of Arab Emirates. The 72nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC), the most important annual event organised by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), will be held there for a whole week, from 25 to 29 October.
Almost all the heads of the world's space agencies, the top executives of the sector's main industries and well-known space tourism entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have travelled to Dubai. The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and its chairman, Hamad Obaid al-Mansoori - host of the 72nd IAC - are expecting more than 3,000 people to attend, including scientists and engineers involved in space projects, business people, politicians, technicians, astronauts and professionals interested in learning about the current state of the booming sector.
Under the theme 'Inspire, innovate and discover for the benefit of humanity', the 72nd IAC is the first to be held in an Arab country. At the opening, Austria's Pascale Ehrenfreund described the UAE as an "emerging space player" with a "dynamic and ambitious" space sector. The president of the leading global space organisation is confident that the 72nd IAC will be an "inspiration for the region" and will serve as a "catalyst for many other Arab nations to establish space centres and agencies", as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia have already done.
The Dubai Congress is intended as a contribution to humanity and science to strengthen and enhance space cooperation among all nations. An extensive programme of activities will take place over five days, with hundreds of lectures, technical presentations, forums and events. The most eagerly awaited is the plenary session featuring the heads of the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Japan, China, India, Canada and Europe, which took place at midday on 25 October at the Dubai World Trade Center.
The Spanish representation at the 72nd IAC is business, academic and institutional. However, as the government of the President of Madrid does not have an organisation equivalent to a National Space Agency, several official entities closely related to the space sphere are present at the event. But none of them are in a position to show the international astronautical community either the Spanish National Space Plan or the Spanish National Space Strategy, simply because they do not exist.
One of the official entities attending is the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA), a research organisation of the Ministry of Defence and, until now, the only Spanish public institution member of the IAF. Representing the Institute, which has been a member of the IAF since 1953, its director general, Air Lieutenant General José María Salom, has appointed Javier Gómez-Elvira, a highly prestigious researcher and former director of the Centre for Astrobiology, a joint body set up by INTA and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
Another institution whose directors are in Dubai is the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI), with a delegation headed by its director general, Javier Ponce. He is accompanied by the director of Space, Large Infrastructures and Dual Programmes, Juan Carlos Cortés, and the head of the Space department, Jorge Lomba.
As the IAF Astronautics Congresses are the main meeting point for all the leaders of the institutional, academic and business space community from the countries of the five continents, Javier Ponce and his team from the CDTI will take advantage of their stay in Dubai to hold meetings with senior officials from the main space agencies. Among them, with those of the United States (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Italy (ASI) and France (CNES), with the aim of strengthening existing bilateral agreements, establishing new cooperation scenarios and laying the groundwork for new framework agreements.
The CDTI team will also have the opportunity to meet with high-level representatives from other countries, for example from the Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA), during the numerous sessions of the Congress, to discuss different possibilities for collaboration.
The CDTI, which reports to the Ministry of Science and Innovation headed by the recently appointed Minister Diana Morant, represents Spain at the European Space Agency (ESA) and manages most of the annual public budget dedicated to space. The Centre is not a member of the IAF, but has formally applied to join the organisation, which will most likely take place during the Dubai Congress, making the Ministries of Defence and Science the interlocutors for Spain until the announced and long-awaited Space Agency is established.
The Spanish space industry is also present at the 72nd IAC. In the exhibition area parallel to the Congress sessions, a dozen Spanish companies are showing their main capabilities. They are Alen Space, Arquimea, AVS, DHV Technology, Elecnor Deimos Space, GMV, Hispasat, Pangea Aerospace, PLD Space and Satlantis.
As a whole, they offer an overview of their potential in the design and production of subsystems and equipment for large space platforms, launchers and ground services, for the development and manufacture of technologies applied to nano-satellites in the so-called New Space environment, as well as in the competitive satellite communications market.
All of them, together with the Astronomical Institute of the Canary Islands, are grouped in a 60 square metre pavilion, which has been named Spain Space and is organised by the Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX Spain Export and Investment) and the Economic and Commercial Office of Spain in Dubai. The CDTI, the Spanish Association of Defence, Security, Aeronautics and Space Technology Companies (TEDAE) and INTA have collaborated.
In March this year, INTA, in agreement with Seville City Council, presented the Andalusian capital's candidacy to host the International Astronautical Congress in 2024. Among its assets are having hosted the European Space Agency (ESA) ministerial meeting in November 2019 and having an important aerospace industry.
The Spanish proposal competes with those of the cities of Adelaide (Australia), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Budapest (Hungary) and Milan (Italy). The latter two capitals enjoy the explicit and unconditional support of their respective national space agencies. The IAF's decision will be announced on the closing day of the Congress on 29 October. So far, Milan's bid seems to have the best chance of success.
A Spanish company with a double presence in Dubai is Elecnor Deimos Space. In addition to its stand in the Space Spain pavilion, it is showing a research project that it is coordinating for the European Union in a separate stand. It is Eo-Alert, a solution that reduces the delay time (latency) of products derived from Earth observation satellites.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic prevented the 2020 event from being held in Dubai as planned. The option chosen was to delay it to 2021, as it has been, and instead hold a reduced event in 2020 in a virtual format.