ABU DHABI // The UAE should lead Arab countries into space, a panel of specialists said yesterday. The country is to launch its first governmental satellite, the DubaiSat-1, next year. However, speakers at the Global Space Technology Forum said further measures were needed to ensure the UAE had a rigid structure in place to foster more ventures into space. Ahmed Obaid al Mansoori, the director general of the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology, which built DubaiSat-1, said a central authority uniting government, private companies and academic institutions with an interest in space technology should be established.
"It is time to design and set up the mechanism for a nationwide programme for research in all fields, and the immediate aim is for such an authority to define a space policy. "We need a regulatory authority not just to put the policies there but to co-ordinate everything - a special monitoring body to follow progress. We will need Emirati scientists, as they are the ones who are going to lead the future."
Dr Hamid al Naiymiy, president of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Sciences, said a pan-Arab space agency was essential to combine talent, information and technology between countries in the Middle East and north Africa. Plans for an Arab Space Research Agency have been submitted to governments across the region, with more detailed proposals expected next year. Dr Naiymiy said the absence of a unified Arab space programme, with separate countries pursuing their own policies, could be detrimental to the region. The UAE is in a prime position to lead the way, he said.
Last month, Dr Omar al Emam, of the Arab Science and Technology Foundation in Sharjah, called for a pan-Arab space agency to reduce the considerable cost of sending satellites into space. "I think the UAE is the best placed to establish the headquarters," Dr Nayimiy said. "It is the most secure place at the moment, the Government is working hard to develop science and technology and the future is very optimistic for the country."
Berin Szoka, chairman of the private, non-profit Space Frontier Foundation in the US, said the UAE should look upon space travel as an "Ibn Battuta moment", referring to the Arab explorer, and finance space exploration. But, he added, the Government should not follow Nasa's example by "monopolising" all space exploration, and instead create opportunities for private investors. He cited the example of the X Prize, a competition led by private enterprise in the US, which sparked the creation of the spaceship to be used for space travel by Virgin Galactic.
"The government should be in the business of enabling and supporting this, not funding it completely," he said. "If you are looking to build a space agency, the worst thing you could do is try to replicate Nasa. It would be a complete waste of money. "You should look at prizes like the X Prize, which led to personal space flight in the US. It demonstrated it is technically possible and commercially possible. You should look at prizes for things like cheap access to space, and for vehicles that could launch from spaceports here in the UAE.
"The opportunity is here for the UAE to become the nexus for space travel. Someone has to provide the hub and I can think of no better place to do it than here. You just need to attract innovation and talent to the UAE." Kai-Uwe Schrogl, director of the European Space Policy Institute, said: "In the future, a country will be important in international politics and international relations only when it will be able to lead other countries in such endeavours as space exploration."