Why the world is not enough

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Why the world is not enough

Dubai - The race for space is heating up, and the UAE is leading the Middle East

By Muzaffar Rizvi

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Published: Mon 21 Sep 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 21 Sep 2015, 4:00 PM

Earth is no longer enough for many of today's industries. The desire to explore space is not just for the few, it has become a global business - and everyone wants a piece of the action.
The key protagonists in the space race have historically been the United States, Russia and Europe, but as they beef up their portfolios, others have also joined in the race. All evidence that, sooner or later, the outer limits of the earth are bound to get a bit "crowded" in the coming years.
To give a perspective of how the industry has grown over the decades, elseco chairman and chief executive officer Laurent Lemaire cited that in 1990, about 90 per cent of satellites were ordered by the US, Russia and Europe. Today, other nations represent nearly 50 per cent of the world's satellite demand.
With satellite launches becoming ever more cost-effective, more and more countries and corporations are looking to the stars for the next frontier. The business community and global government bodies view technology as an integral part of their everyday operations and these need to continually evolve. With this comes a desire to own their own the platform for their destiny.
The Middle East is no different and the UAE is leading the charge.
"In the Middle East, there is a real interest in space activity and this has been clearly demonstrated by the creation of the UAE Space Agency, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai; the Global Space and Satellite Forum in Abu Dhabi; as well as the World Space Risk Forum in Dubai and finally the world leader in space insurance," Lemaire told Khaleej Times.
The region is determined to make its mark in the space sector, with the UAE making huge leaps in terms of development and investment in recent years.
"The UAE has made some significant advances over the last ten years and this is set to continue for the foreseeable future," Lemaire continued.
"We've also seen an encouraging level of growth across the region with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Turkey, among others, being in the mix."
Satellites, Lemaire says, will provide major benefits to all sectors of the economy, which he divided into three "pillars"; telecommunications (including the Internet), security and "future space independence".
"The sector is very strong but there is room for lots of growth, be it buying, manufacturing or operating satellites," he added.
UAE determination
Lemaire, a French national, cited the Emirates Mars Mission as a prime example of how determined the UAE is - not just to have something hover over the earth, but to go beyond that and, in the process, overtake other nations who have either attempted or are planning to visit the Red Planet.
The Orbiter - a lightweight craft built from aluminium and about the size of a car - is projected to arrive to Mars in 2021, the year when the UAE celebrates its 50th founding anniversary.
"I'm very confident that the team in charge of that project will succeed; they are very driven, very clever and are putting a lot of effort behind it," Lemaire said of the mission.
The elseco chairman, who founded his company at the Dubai International Financial Centre in 2006, points out that the premium for the space industry stands at $850 million per annum. However, the nature of the industry does not allow him to provide specific Middle East data as this varies from one year to the next depending on satellite launch schedule.
"On average,the Middle East market probably represents about five to ten per cent of the world premium," he suggests.
Furthermore, the region is not always the launchpad for the satellites it uses. Many find their way into space via the US, Europe or other territories. As such, Middle East satellite traffic could see a further 10 per cent added to its overall numbers.
Space race
Lemaire stressed that many nations such as the UAE, Japan, China, Brazil, South Korea and India are "pushing very hard" in the space race and there is an increasing desire to get involved from areas in Africa and Latin America.
"There is a worldwide willingness and you have many nations trying to be technically and technologically independent," he added.
Lemaire, who leads the largest space underwriting entity worldwide, also mentioned an important trend: more and more private investors are getting into the game - some of which want to take the next step in cementing their legacies on the planet.
"You will see that there are a lot of private investors who have emerged in the last five to 10 years [mainly from the US], such as Space X [of Tesla chairman Elon Musk], Virgin Galactic (led by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson), Google, and many others," he said.
"Those private ventures are ambitious and would like to provide internet to the world population, launch tourist to space and reach the Red Planet."
Space tourism
Lemaire says that since more people are becoming very rich, very quickly, they will also want to become part of an elite group and space offers the opportunity to leave a very unique legacy.
"Going into space or looking at the Earth from outside is something that is of enormous interest to these new global titans. Their dreams and aspirations are no longer of restricted to our planet."
Lemaire also offered a philosophical view: "In the grand scheme of things, the Earth represents a very small part of the universe. We are only just scratching the surface of the possibilities that space will offer. 50 years ago, we were talking about the Moon. Today, we're looking to Mars - our boundaries are changing."
"However, we all need to take a step back and look at life differently from time to time," he added. "While we look to the stars and beyond, we also have an obligation to our own planet. We only have one earth and we need to make sure that we take care of it."
It's no coincidence then that the interest in space tourism continues to grow, even though costs are still outside the reach of all but a very select few. Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane, has led the race for some time but the cost for a single seat - for just a few minutes outside the Earth - costs $250,000.
The crash of SpaceShipTwo last year, however, raised both eyebrows and questions. Whilst Lemaire believes it is a setback for the industry, he also expects the Virgin team to make it work within two years.
The UAE is ready to takes its opportunity, he says.
"Some plans for UAE space tourism were pushed back, things have been delayed but plans are back on track." In any case, the race for space will definitely become more and more interesting as time flies.
"There is a bit of a buzz in the space world right now, and the Middle East and the UAE, has every opportunity to become an important player," Lemaire said.
- muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com

Laurent Lemaire
Laurent Lemaire

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