Arabs' Growing Space Exploration Becoming Competitive
By: Pamela Dimitrova/Arab America Contributing Writer
Do you ever gaze at the stars and wonder how it all began and whether there is life out there in space? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. For years countries have been competing with each other in space exploration and trying to come with the most advanced technologies. And while ‘leaders’ in this field traditionally have been from Western and Asian countries, Arab countries are also becoming competitive in space exploration.
A Rich History
Space science and exploration are not new for Arabs. More than a thousand years ago, Islamic scholars and thinkers embarked on an exciting period of scientific study. They translated Greek and Sanskrit works on astronomy into Arabic and used them to develop their own methods for observing the mysterious heavenly bodies twinkling in the night sky. They recorded the movements of the sun and the moon. They also calculated the diameters of the Earth and the planets they could see from the ground and pondered their place in the universe.
It’s this period, the Islamic “Golden Age,” which stretched from the eighth century until about the 14th century, which is often invoked in discussions of astronomy in the Arab World. Sometimes, these historical achievements in the Arab World overshadow the region’s modern-day contributions to the field, like the Qatar Exoplanet Survey, which joined the worldwide search for planets beyond our solar system in 2010. History has recorded the great medieval astronomers, but so far taken little notice of recent ones.
Recently Egypt launched its second satellite, Narescope-2, type CubeSat, from Japan to the International Space Station. It is scheduled to position the satellite in orbit by next November. The satellite was tested and is 100% Egyptian manufactured, according to Chairperson of National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences, Mohamed Zahran.
He explained that the launch of this satellite comes within the framework of the National Alliance of Knowledge and Technology in the field of space, funded by the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology. The program includes the launch of three satellites of the CubeSat type, which were designed and implemented completely without the use of any foreign expertise to develop the industry of local space technology.
For a long time, Qatar aims to be seen around the world as “a destination for research, development, and innovation achievements” – and it seems they are getting closer to their goal. A few days ago, while visiting the country, the ex-astronaut, and scientist, Dr. Mary Ellen Weber, has said it would be a “travesty” for Qatar not to become a global leader in innovation because she believes its people can change the world.
The country has made many discoveries in this field. In 2016, local astronomers have discovered the existence of three new “hot Jupiter” exoplanets that have been named Qatar-3b, Qatar-4b, and Qatar-5b. The discovery was made by a project based at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), which is part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University.
While space science is not the most popular science in the sultanate, one woman makes great efforts to change that – Eng Bahiya al Shuabi is the creator of the Global Space and Technology Company, the only private company in Oman that specializes in the space sector.
Launched in 2017, the company is conducting a study to identify the best satellite launch locations in Oman and has started a space hub (https://gstc.space/), which is a platform for those interested in space. The company is also planning to come out with a book on space.
Space science has significantly developed in recent years. In November 2017, the North African country successfully launched an earth observation satellite. Dubbed “Mohammed VI-A”, the satellite was launched by Arianespace’s Vega rocket from the French Guyana Space Center.
The earth observation satellite built for the Kingdom of Morocco by Thales Alenia Space and Airbus is being used for mapping and land surveying activities, regional development, agricultural monitoring, the prevention and monitoring of natural disasters, monitoring changes in the environment and desertification, as well as border and coastal surveillance.
As in every field in science, UAE is committed to being a leader – they have an astronaut program and a number of satellites in space. Last week, they added a new achievement to the list–Major Hazzaa AlMansoori made history Wednesday by becoming the first Emirati in space and the first Arab astronaut to travel to the International Space Station.
After months of grueling training, AlMansoori, a 35-year-old former military pilot, blasted off 15 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz-MS.