UAE to help build first lunar space station, send astronaut to Moon's orbit

The UAE will send the first Arab and Emirati astronaut to the Moon’s orbit

by

Sahim Salim

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Photos: Sheikh Mohammed— @HHShkMohd/X
Photos: Sheikh Mohammed— @HHShkMohd/X

Published: Sun 7 Jan 2024, 5:49 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 Jan 2024, 10:46 PM

The UAE will be part of a global project to build and launch the first space station around the Moon. The country’s space engineers will build a 10-tonne ‘Crew and Science’ airlock, which will serve as the entry and exit point for astronauts on the Lunar Gateway.

The first two modules of the small multi-purpose outpost orbiting the Moon are expected to launch in 2025. The Emirates Module is expected to launch in 2030.

The UAE will also send the first Arab and Emirati astronaut to the Moon’s orbit as part of the project. Under the agreement signed between the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and Nasa, a UAE astronaut will “fly to the lunar space station on a future Artemis mission”.

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Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the “journey to the Moon” will happen “upon the project’s completion in 2030”.

UAE-built airlock

The MBRSC will be responsible for designing, developing, and operating the Emirates Airlock. A critical component, the 10X4-metre unit serves as the point through which astronauts and supplies enter and exit the space station.

Gateway will provide a home for astronauts to live and work. It will serve as a staging point for lunar surface missions, and an opportunity to conduct spacewalks while orbiting the Moon.

Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson said the UAE-built airlock will allow astronauts to conduct “groundbreaking science” in deep space and “prepare to one day send humanity to Mars”.

According to Nasa, in addition to operating the airlock, the MBRSC will also provide engineering support for the life of the lunar space station. “The airlock will allow crew and science research transfers to and from the habitable environment of Gateway’s pressurized crew modules to the vacuum of space. These transfers will support broader science in the deep space environment, as well as Gateway maintenance,” Nasa said.

Emirati astronaut to the Moon

The UAE has four mission-ready astronauts. Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi have already flown to space; while Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammed AlMulla are training at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

The latest cooperation builds on the previous human spaceflight collaborations between Nasa and the UAE. In 2019, AlMansoori became the first Emirati to fly to space during a short mission to the International Space Station. Sultan AlNeyadi launched to the space station in 2023 for a six-month mission.

“‘We want to go to the Moon’ were my first words after returning to Earth,” said AlNeyadi. “This ambition has turned into a project with the development of the airlock on the Lunar Gateway and preparations for the first Arab astronaut mission to the Moon. My colleagues and I are ready.”

Getting Moon-ready

The UAE will also establish two facilities in the Emirates: One to train astronauts and the other to serve as an operations centre for the lunar station.

The UAE joins the US, Japan, Canada and the European Union to establish Nasa’s Lunar Gateway station.

Announcing the UAE’s contributions to the outpost, the President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said the country is “determined to work alongside its international partners to enable collective progress for all”.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said the lunar space station will help humans return to the Moon. “Work will begin immediately. The UAE will be part of the project that represents one of humanity’s greatest ambitions in space during the next decade.”

Gateway offers space for crew to live, work, and prepare for lunar surface missions for a duration of up to 90 days. On-board science investigations will help study helio-physics, human health, and life sciences, among others.

In 2020, the UAE became among the first signatories of Artemis Accords — a set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations participating in Nasa’s 21st century lunar exploration programme.

Through Artemis, Nasa will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the surface of the Moon.

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