The United Arab Emirates is getting serious about space.
On Sunday, the Emirati space agency announced the creation of an AED 3 billion (~$817M) national fund to further nurture and develop the UAE’s budding space industry. The UAE also announced the first project with backing from its new fund: a constellation of SAR (synthetic aperture radar) remote-sensing satellites dubbed Sirb.
UAE space: The Emirates created a space agency in 2017 with the long-term goal of building a full-scale city on Mars by 2117. Looking past the loftiness (albeit on a more realistic timetable than some others have floated), the agency has made strides in cultivating a modern space program since its founding.
- In 2019, it sent an astronaut to the ISS, and it launched the Hope Mars orbiter in 2020.
- Looking forward, the Emirates plan to launch a mission to Venus and the main asteroid belt in 2028.
Sirb would be the country’s first full constellation. The project slots into the agency’s more modest goals of bolstering the Emirati economy, creating jobs, and becoming leaders in science. And these are no afterthought—earlier this year, the UAE set up a space economic zone in Masdar City, and is planning two more in Dubai and Sharjah
Bird’s eye view: Sirb is Arabic for “flock of birds.” Planning and development will commence soon, with a debut launch expected in ~3 years and full deployment circa 2028.
- The agency hasn’t yet announced how many satellites it’s building or what share of its newly minted fund is earmarked for Sirb.
- The SAR constellation will operate over the X-band.
Not so fast…To build a successful EO constellation, one must do more than simply loft a few satellites to orbit and point the sensors toward areas of interest on Earth.
As Aravind Ravichandran, author of the TerraWatch Space newsletter and friend of Payload, noted on Twitter, there’s a lot of planning that needs to be done for life after launch. As the UAE builds its constellation, it’ll have to think about how that SAR data will be gathered, distributed, formatted, accessed, analyzed, and applied—and whether there is a sufficiently trained workforce to carry out each of those steps.
Enter international players? Sirb will be built through partnerships “between the Emirati public and private sector, together with international players,” according to the UAE government.