United Arab Emirates launches $820M fund to boost domestic space economy

The United Arab Emirates will pour more than $800 million into space initiatives through a massive new fund, with the first investment going toward the establishment of a remote sensing satellite constellation.

That constellation, called “Sirb” (the Arabic word for a flock of birds), will use synthetic aperture radar technology to capture high-resolution images. The country listed border control, oil spill detection and ship detection and tracking among the practical uses for the satellites. The UAE aims to launch the first satellite in three years, with the entire satellite program to last around six years. It did not specify the total amount it plans to invest in the constellation.

The 3 billion AED ($820 million) National Space Fund, announced Monday, is the latest signal that the country is looking to the space sector to help diversify its oil-dependent economy. As of 2020, oil exports made up nearly 30% of total gross domestic product. However, the UAE’s Ministry of Economy counts space among its “promising economic sectors,” and its space program has undertaken a number of major programs in the past five years.

The UAE established an astronaut program in 2017; one of its two astronauts will fly to the International Space Station in 2023 as part of a long-duration mission with Axiom Space. That astronaut, Hazza Al Mansoori, was the first person from the Emirates to go to space in a 2019 mission to the ISS.

KhalifaSat, the first satellite that was entirely designed and manufactured in the Emirates, was launched to orbit in 2018. Since, the UAE sent an orbiter to Mars in 2020, announced plans to send a 22-pound rover to the moon with Japanese startup ispace and said it would send a probe to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, with the aim of ultimately landing on an asteroid in the early 2030s.

The National Space Fund will “actively encourage partnerships between international and local enterprises,” according to a statement. The country will also seek solicitation from local and international companies for the Sirb satellite constellation.