In past centuries, those who controlled the seas controlled the world – according to the visions of geopolitics. However, we are now entering new times, and those who invest in outer space (Sky) are qualified to be the primary decision-makers.
Among such aspirations is the self-sufficiency in the manufacture of satellites and space sciences knowledge. These currently are one of the most important equations, requiring everyone to act accordingly. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been working on that message since the mid-1980s when it launched the first Arab satellite: the moon Arabsat A1, a result of an Arab agreement to form the Arabsat Foundation, established in 1976.
Arabsat A1 aimed to provide satellite and direct broadcast services to the member states of the League of Arab States. It was the principal operator in the Middle East region for a full spectrum of radio and television services, communications, broadband services, and high-definition channels that reach millions of people in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Central Asia.
The ambitious steps of Saudi Arabia in outer space and satellites have begun at that point and when Prince Sultan bin Salman went to the moon. He was the first Arab and Muslim astronaut on his 1985 flight with the American space shuttle Discovery, which later gave a positive impetus to invest in technology development related to outer space research. The Saudi Center for Remote Sensing (the nucleus of the Space Research Institute) and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology are examples of efforts in the field.
Such accomplishments were followed by a subsequent investment of US$1bi in the space services sector, leading to the establishment of the Saudi Space Authority in December of 2019 by royal order. Meanwhile, another command to reform the Council of Ministers guaranteed the exemption of Prince Sultan bin Salman from the presidency of the Tourism Authority for his subsequent appointment as Chairman of the Space Authority.
This report reviews the Kingdom’s vision of entering an age of no limits. The step was not a coincidence; it is a goal that puts the outer space industry under the requirements for the success of Vision 2030.
The Saudi Space Program. Goals and advantages:
On 25 April 2016, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz launched the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. It is the largest economic and social plan for restructuring the national economy and developing society. He restricted it to specific projects, initiatives, and implementation steps. It is as if the Kingdom is passing through a gigantic workshop aiming to radically transform its economy and social life at the end of this vision, and maybe the space field is one of the crucial areas within.
The defined strategic objectives through the launch of a Saudi Space Program are:
– Localizing the space industry and keeping pace with Vision 2030
– Meet local needs
– Development and manufacture of the latest Earth observation systems
– Strengthening geographic information services
– Engagement of local businesses
– Encouraging the strengthening of international cooperation in space exploration
– Contribute to enhancing space safety and security
– Implementation of space treaties and international space law through the Space Science and Exploration Program, the Moon Exploration Program, the Space Communications and Data Transfer Program, and the Remote Sensing Technology Program
Besides, there are other goals that the program has strived to achieve, as follows:
– The role of the Kingdom in international or regional aerospace missions
– Opportunities offered by other organizations in the air sector
– Enhancing the level of higher education in space sciences and aviation
– Training programs in the Kingdom, developing resources, and paying attention to the aviation and space sector
– Encouraging the spread and use of projects and services in the air and outer space sector at the national level
In pursuit of all these goals, the space program has several advantages, which can be summarized as follows:
– Advanced photoelectric imaging systems
– Shelf life of five years
– High-speed communication systems
– Integrated systems for guiding the moon for shooting targets
– Processing and storing data at high capacities in the outer space and sending it to Earth stations via high-speed connections
Satellites: a necessity for the future
It is not an exaggeration to say that the role of satellites is growing day after day in serving the development projects pursued by some countries. These satellites have helped governments be at the forefront of communications, making the world a small village. The development of technology has introduced topographic surveying and satellite photography, without mentioning how relying on satellite images became necessary in many works, such as urban expansion and city planning.
The artificial bodies also have proved their significance in wealth and natural resources discovery, weather forecast, plus land, sea, and air navigation. Finally, they are necessary for military uses, constituting one of the components in strategic defence systems of countries to achieve superiority over the opponent.
In recognition of the growing role of satellites, there was a Saudi keenness to go into this industry. The Kingdom proved its capacity during the past decade when it designed and manufactured 13 of them. The Saudi satellites Sat A5 and Sat B5, both manufactured with Saudi competencies in the laboratories of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, show that the country aims not only on possessing the national capacity in the field of launching satellites but also in making 100% Saudi ones.
Another proof of the Kingdom’s commitment to the field is the established centre of excellence in the research of the moon and near-Earth objects with NASA and the Center of Excellence for Space Research and Joint Aviation with Stanford University, USA.
The Kingdom and signed agreements
During the last period, the Kingdom was keen to seal agreements and cooperation protocols with different international parties. The objective was to enhance international cooperation in this field and contribute to a shared future vision for space exploration and its use for peaceful purposes. The pact agreed on counts with the United States of America, China, the Russian Federation, Germany, France, and other countries.
Among the most prominent goals recently concluded in this field are the following:
– A bilateral cooperation agreement between the Kingdom and Kazakhstan in 2011
It aimed to exchange benefits and cooperation in outer space research, remote sensing, satellite communications, exploration, and use of outer space for peaceful purposes – with the utilization of space infrastructure, as well as the manufacture of space vehicles and their components, provisions, and use of launch services.
– The Memorandum of Understanding
Saudi Arabia and China signed the memorandum during the visit of King Salman bin Abdulaziz to China on 16 March 2017. The Kingdom participated in the joint scientific trip with China, launched within the Chinese space mission (Chang E4) from Xichang on 20 May 2018. Satellite images of the moon’s surface were taken for studying purposes using Saudi systems.
– A cooperation agreement between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation during the visit of King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Russia in October 2017
The agreement aims to strengthen cooperation in outer space exploration and its use for peaceful purposes while allowing the Kingdom to participate in Russian space flights and space exploration. Furthermore, both governments would take advantage of outer space technologies and joint systems (in commercial projects, research, development, production, and manufacturing).
This agreement also boosted the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s acquisition of a stake in the Virgin Galactic, The Space Ship, and Virgin Europe group of companies by US$1bi, plus US$480mi as an option in the future. These three companies play a role in the country’s efforts in developing manned space flight systems, low-cost satellite launch systems, and activating the space-related entertainment sector and space transportation industries soon.
– The partnership agreement between King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
It is one of the joint research centres of excellence for developing satellite technologies and using their data to deal with the challenges of studying surface and subsurface deformations of Earth’s crust.
– A bilateral cooperation agreement between the Kingdom and Ukraine in the field of research and peaceful uses of outer space, remote sensing, and geophysics to enhance the social, economic, and cultural development in both countries
It is worth noting that this agreement opens a wide field for researchers and employees concerned with training, engineering, and technical participation – plus exchange of equipment, data, results of experiments, scientific and technical information, as the development of industrial and commercial programs in the fields of study. Finally, it opens doors for organizing scientific seminars and other joint meetings.
The Saudi Space Commission: Importance and Role
Amidst the many successes and achievements the Saudi space industry has shown, it is easier to see the urgent need for a national regulatory body to deal with such a crucial field that enhances innovation, expands opportunities, and maximizes economic benefits.
Therefore, to serve as a significant step in the Saudi outer space industry, this Commission has become a reference for all entities and companies working in the same matter. It provides the best service and a mission focused on managing satellites, transferring, localizing, and developing their technologies. Simultaneously, it concentrates on establishing developed infrastructure while enabling Saudi cadres (and qualify them to develop, manufacture, and operate satellites).
In conclusion, the Saudi Space Commission is an irreplaceable centre of excellence to enhance satellite-based navigation services in the region and to pursue investment and development in space activities. Its establishment came as the culmination of Saudi efforts over the past years in an industry that makes the Kingdom one of the most important to attract investment in this area, especially with the increasing demand. By acting as a catalyst for new companies and entrepreneurship, the country is developing and promoting opportunities that contribute to the national GDP.