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Partnerships boost UAE's space ambitions

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By Euronews
Partnerships boost UAE's space ambitions

The UAE space programme is striking partnerships with established space players as it seeks to turn its space dreams of Mars exploration and human spaceflight into reality.

One key actor is French space agency CNES, which was the first to sign a cooperation deal with the UAESA in April 2015, and it has since opened a space office in Abu Dhabi. Companies in France are working on new Emirati satellites, and the two countries are developing a joint hyperspectral imaging satellite for Earth observation.

CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall tells Euronews he is impressed by the breadth and depth of the space efforts in the UAE: "There is a real desire on the part of the Emiratis to develop a space policy. So it is a very complete programme, with telecommunications satellites, Earth observation satellites, strategic satellites, a Mars mission, the astronauts, and the Emirates decided to make CNES a strategic partner."

He sees the emergence of new space powers like the UAE as positive for the long-standing actors like France, which has been in the space business since the very beginning.

CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall

"CNES will celebrate its 60th birthday soon, while the Emirates are a lot more recent. But it's a win-win situation, because they have a very innovative approach, and on our side we can share our experience with them," Le Gall argues. "So in a way it's a snapshot of the modern world, where the 'new space' actors and the more traditional players work together to develop space activities."

The UAE has deals with the other big space agencies too, with the Emirati astronaut candidates due to fly this September being trained and supported by NASA, ESA and Roscosmos.

The Emirates has invested in new private space company Virgin Galactic, and is discussing plans to fly space tourists from the Middle East.

Meanwhile Mars is a big focus, as the UAE builds a new research centre called Mars Science City, and races to be the first Arab nation to send a spacecraft to the red planet in 2021.

So there are a lot of projects underway. Is it too much? We went to space industry analysts Euroconsult for an expert opinion.

Euroconsult's Senior Space Analyst Simon Seminari

"Their model is quite unusual, in the sense that they are leapfrogging a lot of the traditional steps that an emerging space country would take," says Euroconsult's Senior Space Analyst Simon Seminari.

"We see the traditional model as very much an incremental, gradual build-up of capabilities. So it's quite unusual to see a country that has a degree of expertise in space, but not a well established reputation, to immediately propose extremely ambitious programmes. The big gap is essentially what's going to be happening post-2021, because for the moment the country hasn't announced any subsequent steps following the immediate short-term programme that they have announced."

It's worth remembering that the Middle East has a long tradition of science and astronomy.

A 14th century astrolabe displayed at the Observatory of Paris

Euronews was lucky to be able to film a 14th century astrolabe in the collection at the Observatory of Paris, the oldest instrument at the scientific research institute, and still in remarkable condition today.

Such devices were used by Islamic scholars to study the movement of the stars, and were the product of the so-called ‘golden age’ of Islamic astronomy.

Now, it appears that a new golden age may be on the horizon.