Saudi Arabia’s latest satellite launches into orbit from French Guiana

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The Ariane 5 rocket took off from French Guiana on schedule. (Screengrab)
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The Ariane 5 rocket took off from French Guiana on schedule. (Screengrab)
Updated 06 February 2019
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Saudi Arabia’s latest satellite launches into orbit from French Guiana

  • The Saudi Geostationary Satellite 1 (SGS-1) was launched from French Guiana by Arianespace
  • The satellite will provide telecommunications capabilities and stronger internet connectivity

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia launched its 16th satellite into orbit on Tuesday, in a successful mission celebrated in the Kingdom and at the launch site in South America.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had signed the final piece to be placed on the satellite before its launch, with the words: “Above the clouds.”

The rocket carrying the Saudi Geostationary Satellite 1 (SGS-1) blasted into the skies above its launch pad in French Guiana on schedule at 9 p.m. GMT.

The satellite will provide telecommunications capabilities, stronger internet connectivity, TV and secure communications in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

The launch was carried out by Arianespace using the Ariane 5 rocket, which also carried an Indian satellite into orbit.

Shortly after takeoff, the rocket disappeared into the clouds. The booster consumed 240 tons of fuel in just over two minutes and was the first section to be jettisoned, falling 500 km from the coast into a protected area. The SGS-1 separated about half an hour after launch. 

Saudi Energy Minister Khaled Al-Falih said such a spectacular national achievement is due to the great support provided to the Kingdom’s research and development sector by King Salman and the crown prince. 

The launch is part of the Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to localize strategic technologies in the Kingdom, and enable young Saudis to work with state-of-the-art technology in the field of satellite development and manufacturing.

Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel said: “I want to express my gratitude to our friends and partners in Riyadh, where I am sure this success is being celebrated.”

Along with the Saudi government, it will also serve Hellas-Sat, a subsidiary of Riyadh-based satellite operator Arabsat.

“Today we celebrated the success of the launch of the Ariane 5 mission. KACST is honored to provide the satellite in the name of Saudi Arabia thanks to the support of King Salman and the overseeing of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” said Dr. Badr Al-Suwaidan, SGS-1 program director from KACST.

The satellite was manufactured, tested and operated with the participation of Saudi engineers and scientists. 

The crown prince oversaw manufacturing stages during his visit to Lockheed Martin’s San Francisco headquarters.

The Ariane 5 rocket used in the launch is designed for heavier, dual launches. The French Guiana Space Center is the world’s only dedicated commercial space base, with the launch located near water and away from population centers.

Richard Edwards, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin International, lauded his company’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia.

“The successful launch of this satellite is a first step in our unique partnership with KACST and Saudi Arabia, which is established on innovation, science, technology and human resources development,” he said.

The SGS-1 aims to employ advanced Ka-band capabilities to enable space communications at ultrafast speeds. 

It is part of the national strategic plan to provide high-specification communications services custom-made for the government sector, and to export these services to the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Central Asia. 

The satellite also aims to improve local capabilities and human resources, and create job opportunities in the space industry.

It uses advanced technologies that enable it to provide highly secure and anti-interference telecommunications.

The SGS-1 will offer multiple applications that include broadband telecommunications, highly secure communications, and communications dedicated to remote or disaster-stricken areas. 

The satellite, which will be operated and controlled from ground stations based in Saudi Arabia, will serve and support the infrastructure of the Kingdom’s telecommunications sector.


How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019
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How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”