Space tech firm seeks to cash in on rising demand in region

ICEYE opens UAE office and announces ambitious programmes

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Somshankar Bandyopadhyay

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Published: Sun 24 Dec 2023, 9:14 PM

In recognition of the region’s growing strengths in international space research, ICEYE, a pioneer in space satellite technology, and leading light of the ‘new space’ economy, opened a UAE office at the end of 2022 and has pledged more resources to the region in the coming years. The company recently announced an ambitious programme with Bayanat and Yahsat to broaden commercial opportunities across the UAE space-ecosystem.

As the competition in the global space race intensifies, the Middle East is emerging as a prominent hub of space-related activities. In early 2023, it was reported that Oman has plans to construct the first space rocket launch centre in the region, with the aim of commencing launches as early as 2024. Concurrently, the UAE is showcasing its growing space ambitions, exemplified by sending the first lunar rover built by an Arab country into space in December, launched aboard a SpaceX rocket from the United States. Additionally, the UAE Government has announced a substantial investment of $816 million in the space sector, with a particular focus on supporting private companies. Saudi Arabia is also showing interest in venturing into space, Jamil Kawar, VP – Missions – MENA, ICEYE, said .

Government entities and businesses in the UAE use ICEYE’s technology for applications including:

•Border monitoring — understanding what is happening around international borders and beyond

•Site activity monitoring — observe strategic sites and detect changes, detect and classify aircraft or concentrations of aeroplanes and helicopters,

•Port monitoring — detect and classify vessels, track ports and changes in port and marine infrastructure worldwide, including cargo shipments, oil storage volume, etc,

•Oil spills — detect and respond to oil spills and oil seeps,

•Maritime domain awareness — get actionable intelligence on activities in waters of interest

As the private sector ventures towards new frontiers in 2023, and global competition in the space industry heats up, the Gulf countries are poised with ample opportunities to seize a more significant share of this transformative and burgeoning sector. The region’s growing involvement in space exploration is indicative of its increasing prominence in the global space arena. Non-governmental entities are assuming a more significant role in space exploration. The MENA region’s demand for remote sensing data is projected to surpass $400 million by 2027, presenting substantial prospects for satellite communication companies like Yahsat. “We at ICEYE hope to play an important supporting role in enabling the UAE’s private and public sector organisations to deliver on their space tech ambitions and expand their range of capabilities,” Kawar said.

The UAE has made considerable advancements in reducing its reliance on oil and diversifying its economy. The country’s leadership has recognised the risks associated with heavy oil dependency and has actively implemented policies to mitigate these challenges.

Jamil Kawar, VP – Missions – MENA, ICEYE
Jamil Kawar, VP – Missions – MENA, ICEYE

“The high interest in the space industry is another result of the forward-thinking vision of the leaders of this country. In July 2022, the UAE established a Dh3 billion national investment and development fund for the space sector. The National Space Fund will support new programmes launched to support international and Emirati companies cooperating in the latest engineering, science and research applications,” Kawar said.

ICEYE is a pioneer in space satellite technology as the owner and operator of the world’s largest constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites. “Our constellation of over 20 SAR satellites bounces powerful radar beams off the surface of the Earth from approximately 550 kilometres in space. The beams return to the satellites, recording and building an accurate picture from these pulses of what is happening on the ground below. The technology can see through clouds, smoke and even take images of the ground at night. This provides our customers with persistent coverage of events on the ground in all weather conditions,” Kawar said.

Traditional satellite imagery services would typically require three years or more to build and launch bespoke satellites for customers at costs in the millions and with devices weighing tonnes. In contrast, our satellites are purpose-built to be smaller, more affordable and more flexible than legacy systems, giving governments and organisations the opportunity to own their own fleets. They are highly agile, enable near real-time data delivery, and can be launch-ready in a matter of months.

In May this year, ICEYE announced a partnership with Bayanat (a provider of AI-powered geospatial solutions) and Yahsat (the UAE’s flagship satellite solutions provider) aimed at building national satellite remote sensing and Earth observation capabilities within the UAE. The program aims to develop a constellation of at least five SAR satellites to provide a consistent data stream — ultimately with a view to providing geospatial insights to a range of industries in both local and international markets.

The main trend driving the space business is growing awareness of the capabilities of New Space technologies, and a deepening understanding of how these technologies can be useful and deliver value on Earth. “Public and private ICEYE customers across the world use the data from our satellites to guard against illegal fishing, to monitor wildfires or deforestation, and for disaster response to floods. In the Middle East, it can help detect and respond to oil spills and oil seeps. As they confront these challenges, more and more organisations are starting to realise that SAR satellites could provide a useful solution,” Kawar said.


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