We have lift-off: The Middle East gets with the space program as it marks World Space Week

We have lift-off: The Middle East gets with the space program as it marks World Space Week
The UAE Space Agency is planning a mission to Mars. (Supplied photo)
Updated 26 September 2019

We have lift-off: The Middle East gets with the space program as it marks World Space Week

We have lift-off: The Middle East gets with the space program as it marks World Space Week
  • We look at the region’s achievements in space, including the first Arab and first Muslim astronaut, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman
  • Countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are investing in the space sector as a way of diversifying their oil economies

DUBAI: Space enthusiasts and experts have planned more than 3,700 events in 80 countries to mark World Space Week, which begins and ends every year with two dates significant to the start of the first space age: On Oct. 4, 1957, the date Russia launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite, and on Oct. 10, 1967, an international space treaty came into effect. 

But as the world moves into the second space age, it won’t be long before the Middle East has its own set of milestones to mark. 

Space science, mathematics, engineering and technology are increasingly gaining ground across the region. And although the call in 2008 to establish a pan-Arab space agency has not progressed as much as many had hoped, experts say the idea led to other positive developments, such as the establishment of the UAE Space Agency in 2014. 

The UAE has quickly established itself as a global player on space-related matters, with other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, closely following suit. 

“With the Kingdom announcing last year it is investing $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and its spinoff companies, it too is returning to reboot its now decades-old space program, that most notably had Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, the first royal astronaut and the first Arab Muslim, to fly in outer space in 1985,” said Matthew Cochran, chairman of the Defense Services Marketing Council, an Abu Dhabi-based network of partnerships related to regional defense, space and security marketing. “The region is primarily dominated by the UAE Space Program, being the most relevant and mature in 2018 with its Mars mission and astronaut programs.” 




Scientists at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh have manufactured two space satellites so far. (SPA)

Last year, six countries – Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and Bahrain – kicked off talks related to space. This year, Sudan, Oman and Kuwait joined the group. Cochran believes the main challenge facing the region is the constant requirement to travel outside the Middle East for relatively simple launches of CubeSats. “Having a launch capability for peaceful space programs from the UAE or the GCC is a must in the short term,” he said. “The space program in the UAE is vital as it provides the reach goals that combine all industries, governments and academic programs behind visionary goals. It also provides the velocity for the regional shifts as major players in the space and aerospace industry.” 

He spoke of the UAE’s space program as a beacon of hope and prosperity for the planet as the human race strives to explore deep space with global partners. But more work needs to be done to achieve the ultimate goal of creating an Arab space agency. 

“The Middle East, and particularly the UAE, is actively pursuing involvement in the space sector,” said Francesco Arneodo, associate dean of science and associate professor of physics at New York University – Abu Dhabi. “The progress has been very fast, with important initiatives like the ambitious Mars Mission, that foresees an orbiter around Mars in 2021, the establishment of the UAE Space Agency and the organization of international events.”

He said the agency is working on involving local and international institutes, including universities, research institutions and companies, to lay the foundations of a durable and productive space sector. 

“Access to space is often seen as a benchmark for the technological development of a country,” he said. “Putting a satellite in orbit nowadays costs much less than 10 to 20 years ago, and the diffusion of relatively cheap micro-satellites, among which the CubeSats – which are small, high-tech cubes of 10sqcm – offers an ideal platform for training and prototyping, a platform that is also becoming accessible to undergraduate students. 

“However, if the goal is to establish a source of sustained innovation, and eventually of revenue, it should not be forgotten that this comes normally as the last step of a complex system that includes basic research that scientists do as an important element.”

And with the UAE’s plans to send the Arab world’s first mission to Mars through its Amal (Hope) probe by 2021, and Saudi working on developing satellite technologies for use in remote sensing and space communications, time is pressing. “It’s really exciting to see how fast the Middle East region is adopting space exploration activities,” said Bas Lansdorp, chief executive at Mars One in the Netherlands. “The world is becoming more and more aware that space is not just a great way to inspire, but also a business.”

As Gulf countries gradually shift their economies away from oil, building national capacity in the space sector can significantly contribute to meeting the countries’ missions. “The UAE’s government built the infrastructure and heavily invested in this sector as it will allow it to be a pioneer in this vital field,” said Dr Ahmed Murad, dean of the college of science at United Arab Emirates University. “Having the UAE Space Agency will help the country to structure and govern this sector in a proper way. The Emirates implemented the best practices in forming the agency.” 




Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space.

He said establishing a space agency in every country is crucial to lead the sector and further advance civilization. “This will help the region become the hub of advanced research in space while meeting the goals of the UAE’s Centennial 2071 project, for instance,” Dr Murad said. “The Middle East is advancing in adopting space and the sector has become a dream for every student. Different space-related entities have worked to pave the way to build state-of-the-art infrastructure that will help researchers conduct their work in issues and challenges associated with space.” 

The region’s educational sector is also undergoing massive revamping to be able to adapt to changing times, with new and more focused curricula and programs focusing on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and space. 

UAE University is no exception, with its physics department offering a new space science track this fall. Its college of science is also working on developing a minor in space science, which will be open to all students at the university. It is also working with other colleges to develop a graduate program in space science and technology. 

“The main challenges that face the region will be limited to recruiting high-caliber researchers in the field of space in order to transfer the best practices of space to the region,” Dr Murad added. “Rapid developments in technology also pose challenges to the Middle East, but space is extremely important for regional countries because it is one of the main pillars that will help them diversify their economy in the long run.”

When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space

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US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive

US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive
United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths speaks during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia. (AP file phot)
Updated 5 min 28 sec ago

US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive

US slams Houthis for boycotting UN Yemen envoy, not stopping Marib offensive
  • The Yemeni government said it was willing to engage in direct talks with the Houthis on ending the war

AL-MUKALLA: The US has criticized the Iran-backed Houthis for refusing to meet UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths in the Omani capital and spurning calls to stop their deadly offensive against Yemen’s central city of Marib.

“The Houthis passed up a major opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peace and to make progress on this proposal by refusing to meet with UN special envoy Griffiths in Muscat,” the US State Department said in a statement, adding that the Houthis contradicted their commitments to comply with the available “fair deal” to end the worsening humanitarian crisis by escalating their offensive on Marib.

The US government said that the internationally recognized government of Yemen had expressed willingness to find an agreement to end the war.

Last week, officials said that Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul-Salam refused to meet the UN envoy to discuss his ideas for ending the war, and he also demanded a halt to Arab coalition airstrikes, unregulated flights in and out of Sanaa airport and an end to restrictions on Hodeidah seaport before agreeing to put into place a nationwide truce.

The Yemeni government said it was willing to engage in direct talks with the Houthis on ending the war.

Abdullah Al-Alimi, the Yemeni president’s chief of staff, told a gathering of foreign reporters at an online press conference on Friday that the Yemeni government did not take part in the stalled round of negotiations in Muscat since Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his government have already agreed to the terms of the UN-brokered Joint Declaration.

Regarding the Houthi offensive on the city of Marib, Al-Alimi said the battle is a matter of death and life for millions of Yemenis to prevent the country from becoming another model of Iran’s theocracy.

The Yemeni official told reporters that roughly 2,400 loyalists have been killed and 5,000 more wounded in the fighting in Marib since earlier this year and the Houthis have fired 93 missiles and 360 shells at government-controlled areas during the past five months.

In Marib, heavy fighting broke out on Friday night when government troops repelled two consecutive attacks by the Houthis in Al-Mashjah and Serwah near Marib city, a local army official told Arab News on Saturday.

The clashes ended on Saturday morning after the Houthis retreated after suffering heavy casualties and losing many military vehicles.

In the northern province of Jouf, Yemen’s army announced on Friday that it had liberated areas in Al-Alem after heavy clashes with the Houthis.

In the western province of Hodeidah, a mother and her two children were killed and five others were wounded when their vehicle hit an IED planted by the Houthis on the main road between Durihimi and Bayt Al-Faqih, local media said on Saturday.

 


Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March
Updated 11 min 59 sec ago

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March

Turkey COVID cases below 20,000 for first time since mid-March
  • Last week Erdogan announced "full lockdown" until May 17 to curb a surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths
  • In recent weeks, Turkey has ranked fourth globally in terms of COVID-19 cases, with daily infections topping 60,000

ANKARA: Turkey’s daily COVID-19 cases fell below 20,000 for the first time since March 17 on Saturday, with 18,052 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed.
Last week, President Tayyip Erdogan announced what he called a “full lockdown” until May 17 to curb a surge in infections and deaths after the country eased restrictions in early March.
The data showed another 281 deaths from the coronavirus on Saturday, raising the total toll to 42,746. Total cases exceeded 5 million, although there has been a fall in infections since the lockdown.
In recent weeks, Turkey has ranked fourth globally in terms of COVID-19 cases, with daily infections topping 60,000.
However, Erdogan said earlier on Saturday that he hoped a “new normalization” period would begin after May 17, adding that reopening schools would be included in steps to be announced after the lockdown.
“There is a serious fall in death numbers now. This shows the measures we took are paying off,” Erdogan said.
Despite the recent fall in infections, Turkey on Friday was placed on the UK government’s travel red list, a move that threw the status of the Champions League final on May 29 and the Formula One Turkish Grand Prix on June 11-13 — both to be held in Istanbul — into doubt.
The pandemic has also hurt Turkey’s tourism revenues, which plunged by two-thirds to $12 billion last year.


Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border

Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border
Updated 51 min 56 sec ago

Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border

Lebanese security forces foil attempt to smuggle fuel across Syria border
  • Four Lebanese smugglers stashed subsidized fuel in secret tanks hidden inside pick-up trucks
  • Police are working vigilantly to curtail smuggling to Syria but many smugglers are covered up by politicians or influential figures, Arab News told

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces have foiled a bid to smuggle 8,000 liters of fuel into Syria.   
The Internal Security Forces (ISF) arrested a four-member gang of Lebanese smugglers, who had stashed the subsidized fuel in two secret tanks that were hidden inside pick-up trucks.
ISF said an informant had tipped off intelligence and information teams about the smugglers’ intent to conceal the fuel and smuggle it through one of the Akkar-Hermel routes to Syria.
An ISF squad stopped and impounded three vehicles in a sting operation at Bayno-Al Oyoun highway, leading to Hermel, on Thursday.
The three impounded cars were the pick-up trucks and a white Mercedes, which was used to monitor the route.
“Unfortunately, while law enforcement bodies are working vigilantly to curtail smuggling of subsidized products by smugglers to Syria, many of those are covered up by politicians or influential figures,” an unnamed senior lieutenant said. “Smuggling subsidized goods (mainly petrol and diesel) has prospered recently, especially with smugglers purchasing fuel products here for around LBP40,000 ($26.53) per tank and selling them in Syria for three or four times that price.”
Fuel prices have soared in recent months due to shortages, which Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar blamed on smugglers exporting subsidized supplies to Syria.
If drivers are lucky enough to find petrol stations that are open they are forced to queue for hours. Stations have caps on the amounts of fuel permitted per person, with nobody allowed a full tank. Many stations remain closed.
Ghajar told the media recently that the need for petrol in Syria had encouraged Lebanese smugglers to illegally export subsidized materials for massive profits.
Media reports have said a 20-liter tank of subsidized Lebanese petrol costs nearly $4 dollars per liter according to the market rate, while smugglers were exporting smuggled fuel to Syria where people were willing to pay up to $25 rather than queue for hours.
The Lebanese Army said on Saturday that it had seized four cars, including a black hearse, that were being smuggled to Syria.
The black hearse had been stolen a week previously from the funeral services association in the Sad El Bouchrieh area.
“The stolen vehicles were being prepared to be smuggled to Syria,” said the army. 
Two Lebanese suspects were apprehended in Al-Hermel, 10 kilometers away from the Syrian border, for stealing the cars and arranging them to be smuggled.


Egypt, Arab League condemn Israel’s role in Al-Aqsa Mosque clashes

Stun grenades burst in the air amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Stun grenades burst in the air amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt, Arab League condemn Israel’s role in Al-Aqsa Mosque clashes

Stun grenades burst in the air amid clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP)
  • More than 160 Palestinians and at least six Israeli police officers were injured in a series of confrontations at the mosque

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Ministry and the Arab League have condemned Israeli forces’ involvement in violent clashes outside Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

More than 160 Palestinians and at least six Israeli police officers were injured in a series of confrontations at the mosque late on Friday.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that it condemned Israeli forces’ “storming of the mosque and assault on worshippers there.”

A ministry statement called on Israeli authorities to “shoulder their responsibility in accordance with international law in providing the required protection for the Palestinian civilians and their right to perform their religious rituals.”

The ministry also highlighted the need to “halt any activities that violate the sanctity of the mosque, the holy month of Ramadan, and the Islamic and Christian Arab identity of Jerusalem city.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez reiterated Egypt’s rejection of any illegal activities that seek to undermine the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly the construction or expansion of settlements on Palestinian territory, as well as confiscation of lands and displacement of Palestinians. 

This “represents a violation of international law, undermines the chances of achieving the two-state solution, and represents a threat to the pillars of security and stability in the region,” said Hafez.

He denounced Israeli attempts to evict Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah district in east Jerusalem, saying that this “represents a violation of international humanitarian law and a continuation of the policy of forced displacement.”

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit also condemned the violence at the mosque, and the targeting of unarmed Palestinians with sound and gas bombs as well as rubber bullets. 

Warning of the consequences of escalation, Aboul Gheit said that the assault “provokes the feelings of Muslims around the world and reflects the intended Israeli policy of escalation.”

The violence follows recent “provocations and irresponsible actions against the Palestinian people,” he said.

Aboul Gheit called for immediate international action to halt the assaults, warning of an irreversible escalation in the occupied territories. 

An official source in the Arab League Secretariat quoted Aboul Gheit as saying that the timing of the Israeli assault reveals “a premeditated intention to provoke the Palestinians.”

It “also demonstrates recklessness with the feelings of Muslims and their right to perform their rituals in Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan,” he said.

The Arab League chief held the Israeli government accountable for what he described as “dangerous, irresponsible escalation.”


Iran prisoner ‘forgotten’ by UK govt: Family

One of at least four UK nationals detained by Iran, Anoosheh Ashoori was imprisoned for “spying” and “acquiring illegal wealth.” (Amnesty International)
One of at least four UK nationals detained by Iran, Anoosheh Ashoori was imprisoned for “spying” and “acquiring illegal wealth.” (Amnesty International)
Updated 08 May 2021

Iran prisoner ‘forgotten’ by UK govt: Family

One of at least four UK nationals detained by Iran, Anoosheh Ashoori was imprisoned for “spying” and “acquiring illegal wealth.” (Amnesty International)
  • ‘Boris Johnson has never mentioned us or been in contact with us privately’
  • British-Iranian dual national Anoosheh Ashoori was arrested in Tehran in 2017

LONDON: The family of a British-Iranian dual national detained in Iran fear that he will “be forgotten” as the UK government negotiates the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Elika Ashoori, daughter of retired engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, said UK government officials and ministers have “refused to name” her father when discussing the hostage situation.

Elika told The Times: “(UK Prime Minister) Boris Johnson has never mentioned us or been in contact with us privately. None of us have been mentioned at all.”

She warned that the government might be choosing to focus on the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose case has been given more media attention, even if it means her father is left behind.

Elika said: “This is by no means the fault of Richard Ratcliffe or Nazanin — the blame is on the government.”

Anoosheh’s family previously accepted UK Foreign Office requests to “stay silent” following his 2017 arrest in Tehran.

They were warned by officials that publicizing the case would undermine his bid for freedom.

One of at least four UK nationals detained by Iran, Anoosheh was imprisoned for “spying” and “acquiring illegal wealth.”

His family say both charges were trumped up to provide Tehran with greater bargaining power in negotiations.

The UK Foreign Office has said Anoosheh’s case was “raised regularly” with Iranian authorities at the highest levels, including by Johnson.

“We strongly urge Iran to reunite Mr. Ashoori with his family,” an official said. “Our embassy in Tehran continues to request consular access. We are in close contact with his family and continue to support them.

“We remain committed to securing the immediate and permanent release of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals in Iran.”