UAE to send new and seasoned astronauts on human space missions 'soon'

Salem Al Marri said MBRSC is set to launch MBZ-Sat between July and September 2024

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Nandini Sircar

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UAE astronauts Sultan AlNeyadi (R) and Hazza Al Mansoori, arrive to give a press conference at the Museum of the Future in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on February 2, 2023. Photo: AFP
UAE astronauts Sultan AlNeyadi (R) and Hazza Al Mansoori, arrive to give a press conference at the Museum of the Future in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on February 2, 2023. Photo: AFP

Published: Mon 13 Nov 2023, 5:58 PM

Last updated: Tue 14 Nov 2023, 8:00 AM

After Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi's successful long-haul mission onboard the ISS, UAE's space agency plans to send new and previously flown astronauts into space again, while shorter assignments are also on the agenda for Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre (MBRSC).

Salem Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), spoke to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow on Monday and reiterated the agency's plan.

Although he did not disclose a date for the upcoming human space flight missions, MBRSC is actively working to ensure astronauts remain well-prepared in the near future. The emphasis is placed on physical and mental fitness, as these factors play a crucial role in mission readiness.

Al Marri said, "We have four astronauts, two of whom flew to space. But we won’t just send the new ones; we also want to fly the two who’ve already been on a mission. Even they want to fly again. We have a continuous stretch of missions, and the new crop - Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammad Al Mulla are still undergoing training.”

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He said the agency aims to replicate Sultan Al Neyadi’s stint.

"Sultan's mission is groundbreaking. We want to match that, embark on something similar and take on shorter missions. I don't mind missions that will last only for ten days - they are also very valuable. But definitely more human space flight missions (are under consideration)," he continued.

Salem Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre
Salem Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre

While insinuations have been rife that a mission to land astronauts on the Moon might include two astronauts from the UAE, he said an astronaut's life is about long-term training.

"The life of an astronaut is continuous training, medical check-ups and preparedness. Once we define a mission, there is a countdown and specific training programmes for that mission. So when a mission is selected, we look at their situation and see if they have completed their training. Their physical and mental condition are also assessed."

The UAE Space agency has signed an accord with Nasa in 2020 to be part of the Artemis missions to explore outer space. Artemis III is expected to follow in a few years, carrying the first woman to step on the Moon.

Space manufacturing

Meanwhile, Al Marri also recognised the importance of innovation and technology to leverage collective resources towards the sector’s sustainable future. MBRSC is expanding their perspective and prioritising global cooperation and public-private partnerships.

“I think we have always stated that sustainable programmes are one of our main objectives, that element is essential. Space manufacturing is gaining traction in the country. Vault Aerospace, Strata, EGA and many different companies are working on satellite development; we are creating this ecosystem and looking at the Moon very closely. We are working in and around the Moon, which is our big goal.”

MBZ-Sat launch

Shedding light on how the MBRSC is getting ready to deploy the MBZ-Sat, the most sophisticated imaging satellite in the region, into space in the coming year.

“MBZ-Sat is going to launch between July and September (2024). Beyond that, by the end of this year, we will also announce the missions that we will be launching in 2025, 2026, and 2027. We plan to have continuous missions,” he added.

MBZ-Sat will soon be launched into orbit as part of a SpaceX ride-share mission using a Falcon 9 rocket.

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