UAE’s fledgling space programme a promising vehicle for commercial applications underpinned by investment into knowledge capital.
The role of foreign investment and industrial co-operation in creating knowledge-based offsetting agreements specifically aimed at the UAE’s emerging space programme was the focus at the 2015 Technology Co-operation & Investment Conference, which took place on day two of Dubai Airshow.
The country’s ongoing commitment to developing local talent and Emiratisation goals is already impacting the space race with the UAE Space Agency home to some of the nation’s sharpest minds.
“We want to give opportunities to people with scientific skills and show them that they can play a big part in the programme and contribute to building the scientific community in the UAE,” said Omran Sharaf, Project Manager for the Mars mission at the UAE Space Agency.
According to Stan Ramirez, Vice President, Industrial Co-operation, Lockheed Martin International Corporation, industry partnerships with offset benefits are not just about connecting foreign investment.
“These programmes are quite expensive, and the infrastructure requirement is huge. When you think about the programmes involved in interplanetary exploration, you measure that in years and decades. The commitment is therefore on a scale that is often beyond regular companies, and so the investment.
“Where the offset play is, it needs to have a focus put on a specific area so that you can measure the value you are going to bring, and be able to create a value strain that is sustainable for that long-term commitment to space exploration.”
Ramirez also emphasised the fact that space exploration is not a profit-making business, but a science and discovery endeavour.
“You can’t measure it in terms of value to a country that's involved in the partnership on the basis of profits and exports alone. The idea is that space will push technology into areas that haven’t already been explored or had the capabilities before, and so the space programme itself will eventually bring that technology closer to commercialisiation. Then it’s up to industries to figure out how to turn those things into commercial applications,” he said.
In May 2015, US-headquartered aerospace manufacturer and defence industry company, Orbital ATK, signed an MoU with Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (YAHSAT) and Masdar Institute for a four-year programme that has elements of education, investment plus technical support and actual launch services for two QSat satellites.
James Grzella, UAE Country Executive for Orbital ATK highlighted the evolution of offset programmes from the traditional transfer technology model to one based on knowledge transfer and education.
“Providing a contribution for a new chair or scholarships, those are the types of activity that can really help grow capabilities over time. Even when Tawazun looks at it, they are really interested in what you can deliver that creates sustainment for the economy and the country,” he noted.
“The recently announced Space Research Centre in Al Ain will also help build the UAE science community, but was also launched with the aim of developing partnerships with local and international firms,” said Khalid Al Hashemi, Director of Mission, UAE Space Agency.
“At the moment we are working with the UAE University to develop a science and technology roadmap to define what the projects will be, and the role of the space agency is matchmaking with investment, and R&D, to hopefully create some spin-offs and build the commercial space industry in the UAE,” he added.