Now is the time for UAE's younger generation to pursue a career in space

The time is now for the next generation and batch of experienced professionals to pursue a space career and be at the forefront of driving positive results


By Abdulla AlShehhi

Published: Tue 26 Sep 2023, 9:12 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Sep 2023, 9:15 PM

As the UAE welcomed home Sultan AlNeyadi, space continues to be a fundamental growth sector to the world with more opportunities than ever before.

According to figures from a recent McKinsey report, the space market is expected to be worth $1 trillion in 2030 – an increase from $447 billion projected in 2023. There are several factors that will play a part in contributing to this growth, with advanced technologies opening the doors for other sectors to benefit.

Key beneficiaries of this technological renaissance encompass the energy, telecommunications, transportation, and urban development sectors.


Moreover, space science is unveiling deeper insights into climate change, offering strategies to combat its impacts. A prime illustration is the strategic deployment of space satellites. These satellites, beyond their traditional roles, have evolved as pivotal instruments for accurate weather forecasting, thus aiding farmers in making informed irrigation decisions for their agriculture.

For the UAE, the development of the space sector is one of its national priorities. The government is already making big strides as part of its ambitious plans to become a powerhouse on the international space landscape. They have made headlines internationally and regionally through numerous groundbreaking projects, ambitions, and centres.

Today, the country owns over 20 orbital satellites with more than 10 spacecraft under development, while Sultan AlNeyadi’s historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is the latest significant milestone that the nation has celebrated.

Over the last six months, his journey to the ISS to conduct the Arab world’s longest space mission, while being the first astronaut in the region to carry out a spacewalk, has been regularly documented.

His continuous engagement in scientific experiments and engagements with the public across traditional media platforms have been widely covered across TV, newspapers and social-media, reaching a global audience. He regularly shared his experiences with UAE schoolchildren through Q&A sessions, promoting STEM fields, fostering curiosity and broadening horizons.

Furthermore, Nora AlMatrooshi, the UAE’s first female astronaut, and her colleague Mohammed AlMulla, recently trained in one of the world’s largest indoor pools, wearing a 145kg suit that astronauts wear when conducting spacewalks as part of their Nasa training programme.

Therefore, individuals needn’t look far for inspiration with these experiences being the cornerstone that can further encourage the next generation and influence professionals to make the career switch to the space sector.

With the UAE continuing to invest in the sector and foster relationships with international organisations to conduct missions and experiments, and private companies realising the sector’s potential, there is no better time than now for people in the UAE to enter this exciting field and play their part in positioning the nation as a global leader.

The sector is more than just astronauts and there are a variety of career options to be pursued with a wide range of different skill sets required.

For example, data scientists, satellite operators or even a systems engineer are among the career options while those who have finance, engineering or ICT backgrounds can easily put their skills into daily practice.

Transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and attention to detail are also valuable, can make candidates more attractive to potential employers.

According to the Space Report, statistics show that employment in the private sector within the USA’s space industry reached more than 155,000 last year – the highest it has been since 2009. This reaffirms the sector is growing rapidly while space systems engineer, Quantum mechanics, cybersecurity and space security specialist are among the most in-demand jobs.

While communication and teamwork are fundamental job skills, tomorrow’s space employees need to be committed and have patience. This is because space missions involve extensive work over a long period of time, and it can sometimes take up to five years before a project is launched.

With the UAE advancing, a number of chapters have already been marked in its history. These include the Mars mission in July 2020, which put the country in the global spotlight and enabled Emirati engineers to be at the forefront of developing the aircraft with guidance from international experts. Astronaut Hazza AlMansouri also spent eight days on board the ISS, becoming the first UAE citizen to venture into space.

These narratives not only inspire dreams and ambitions but also impart a sense of planetary responsibility by highlighting the fragile nature of Earth when viewed from space. This direct engagement makes the vast cosmos feel more accessible and intimately connected to our daily lives.

Having been involved in this industry for many years, I can say that the space sector is the strongest it’s ever been. Private sector organizations are now stepping into the field to ease the burden on governments while the latest technologies are opening the doors for innovation and solutions to various challenges.

During my time in the National Experts Programme, which is equipping future leaders with the right tools and knowledge to succeed, it was enlightening to see my colleagues deeply interested in the dynamics of space through workshops and sessions.

The UAE Space Agency and Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre are among the institutions already in place that are accelerating the growth. However, it requires a big team of creative skilled personnel to push the leadership’s vision forward.

The time is now for the next generation and batch of experienced professionals to pursue a space career and be at the forefront of driving positive results that can not only benefit the planet but also help the UAE reach new heights.

Abdulla AlShehhi is NEP 3.0 Space sector representative and Head of Strategic Research at UAE Space Agency

Abdulla AlShehhi

Published: Tue 26 Sep 2023, 9:12 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Sep 2023, 9:15 PM

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