Tunisia already has its first satellite in space, which is also the first to be built entirely in a Maghreb nation.
The Russian launcher that placed the Tunisian nanosatellite Challenge One and the Spanish company Sateliot's 3B5GSat into orbit on March 22 has also placed 36 other satellites in space, including one from the United Arab Emirates and two from Saudi Arabia.
Tunisian President Kais Saied watched the launch of the Russian Soyuz 2 rocket live from the headquarters of the Tunisian industrial group Telnet, accompanied by Mohamed Frikha, CEO of the corporation that manufactures the Challenge One nanosatellite.
The research and innovation project that led to the launch of Challenge One into space began in 2018 and has involved an investment of around €1 million for Telnet. It is an experimental satellite weighing around 13 kilos and measuring 30x10x10 centimetres, containing several sensors for temperature, humidity, pollutant gas measurement and location chips, according to sources from the company.
Telnet, a group specialising in the development of software technologies, electronic systems and mechanical engineering, aims to deploy a constellation of more than twenty small platforms within three years. To this end, it hopes to partner with companies or public institutions in other African countries and to commercially exploit the technology developed by the company.
The contract for Challenge One to fly to space was signed in April 2019 and was scheduled to take place on November 15 last year. But the coronavirus pandemic moved it to 20 March 2021, the 65th anniversary of the country's independence. However, technical reasons postponed the take-off until Monday, 22 March.
The UAE, and in particular the Dubai Municipality headed by Dawoud al-Hajri, now has its first nano-sized environmental satellite, DMSat-1, whose main function is to create a map of air quality on a national scale. It was developed and manufactured by the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) at the University of Toronto, Canada, in collaboration with a team of engineers from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).
Weighing 15 kilos and measuring 56x56x97 centimetres square with the solar panel on one side, DMSat-1 houses scientific instruments to monitor air quality, detect greenhouse gases and pollutants - particularly carbon dioxide emissions - as well as the finer particles that pollute the UAE's atmosphere.
The collected data and images will be downloaded daily to the MBRSC monitoring antenna in Dubai. It will be used to produce maps of the concentration and distribution of pollutant gases and their evolution over the four seasons of the year.
DMSat-1 is part of the Emirates Energy Strategy 2050, the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 and the Emirates National Climate Change Plan 2017-2050, which broadly aim to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions. According to MBRSC chairman Hamad Obaid al-Mansoori, DMSat-1 'will contribute to providing accurate scientific information to help develop long-term plans to improve the environment and reduce urban pollution in Dubai and the Emirates'.
The Saudi kingdom has also placed two tiny spacecraft in space, which have been designed and manufactured in the country for a variety of purposes, including imaging, ship tracking and educational functions.
The main one is the Shaheen Sat platform, designed by engineers at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, KACST (King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology). Its job is to image the Earth and track spacecraft in lower orbits.
Weighing just under 75 kilos and measuring 56x56x97 centimetres, Shaheen Sat is part of the new generation of very small satellites that incorporate a high-resolution imaging telescope of up to 0.9 metres and ship-tracking equipment.
KACST chairman Anas bin Faris al-Faris confirmed that the satellite also has equipment for tracking vessels using artificial intelligence and big data techniques. Together with the telescope, the Shaheen Sat will provide images and data to public and private institutions in the country.
The second Saudi satellite is called CubeSat and is a cube measuring 10x10x10 centimetres and weighing just one kilo. It has been built at King Saud University for purely educational purposes to train teachers and students in early space technology.
The four satellites were launched by the Soyuz 2 rocket at an altitude of between 525 and 550 kilometres. After confirmation that they are alive, they are undergoing initial verification tests before undergoing calibration trials prior entering service.