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The Arab world’s first satellite

The Arab world’s first satellite
Arabsat’s telecommunications satellites now carry hundreds of television and radio channels to the region. (Getty Images)
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Updated 01 May 2020

The Arab world’s first satellite

The Arab world’s first satellite

Arabsat-1A marked the start of the region’s burgeoning space age

Summary

On Feb. 8, 1985, the first Arabsat satellite launched into orbit aboard a French rocket, marking the Arab world’s entry into space. While Arabsat-1A malfunctioned, it was soon followed by Arabsat-1B, deployed by Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman on his historic trip to space aboard NASA’s Discovery shuttle.

Arabsat’s telecommunications satellites now carry hundreds of television and radio channels to the region, while the region’s space programs play essential roles in urban planning and military surveillance. With billions of dollars in investment, the field of space science and technology has become an essential field for growth in the region, as Arab countries plan missions that will reach across from the international space station to Mars. 

Sharjah, UAE: The current Arab space age can be credited to Arabsat, the pan-Arab satellite communications organization. In February 1985, Arabsat launched the first of a series of satellites (16 over the next 35 years). By 2020, the Arab world had at least six space agencies, dozens of satellites (some replacing others over the years), three astronauts who have spent time on space stations, and a probe that will soon go to Mars.

Arabsat is known mostly for satellites that carry hundreds of television and radio channels covering the Middle East, half of Africa and most of Europe. But, in addition to the various space communications services it provides (including satellite telephony and broadband internet), Arabsat should be known as a pioneering and hugely influential organization. It was founded in 1976 by Arab League states and it started to launch geostationary telecommunication satellites in February 1985. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait hold slightly more than half its shares (36.7 and 14.6 percent, respectively), while the rest is held by 19 other Arab states.

We can refer to 1985 as the Arab world’s (first) year of space, with the launch of Arabsat-1A, which unfortunately malfunctioned but was quickly replaced with Arabsat-1B, the latter being launched during the historic trip of Saudi astronaut Prince Sultan bin Salman aboard NASA’s space shuttle.

In the three decades that followed, Arab states established space agencies (from Morocco in 1989 to the UAE in 2014) and launched many satellites, for either collective or country-specific purposes, mainly telecommunications or remote sensing. Iraq was the first Arab state to launch a satellite for itself (in December 1989), becoming the 10th nation in the world to have one in orbit. 

Key Dates

  • 1

    Arabsat, largely funded by Saudi Arabia, is founded by 21 member states of the Arab League, with its headquarters in Riyadh.

    Timeline Image Feb. 14, 1976

  • 2

    Arabsat-1A, Arabsat’s first satellite, is launched by a French Ariane rocket from a base in French Guiana.

  • 3

    Arabsat-1B launches aboard NASA space shuttle Discovery, along with Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space, who successfully deploys it a day later.

    Timeline Image June 17, 1985

  • 4

    The UAE launches KhalifaSat, the first satellite built entirely by Emiratis.

    Timeline Image Oct. 30, 2018

  • 5

    The Saudi company Shammas announces that it will fund the Kingdom’s first privately owned satellite, BadrSat.

  • 6

    SpaceX launches Arabsat-6A with the world’s most powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy, in what is the rocket’s first commercial launch.

    Timeline Image April 11, 2019

Arab space efforts took a quantum leap in 2014, when the UAE announced plans to build a probe to Mars, which is scheduled to launch in July 2020. In 2018, it launched KhalifaSat, the first high-resolution remote sensing satellite to be fully constructed by Emiratis. Then, in 2019, it sent an Emirati astronaut, Hazza Al-Mansouri, to the International Space Station — the first Arab to go to space since 1987 and only the third in total. Other space achievements, albeit smaller, have been made in the region: Universities and research institutes have built CubeSats and had them sent to space; Saudi Arabia contributed to a lunar communications relay satellite that was launched in support of the Chinese Chang’e-4 mission to the far side of the moon; and a private Saudi company, Shammas, inaugurated BadrSat, the first Saudi satellite owned by the private sector.

“The Arabsat system will provide improved communications to all 22 Arab countries with over 8,000 telephone circuits, and eight regional and domestic television channels, including a community television channel.”

From a story by Arab News’ Washington bureau on the front page, Feb. 10, 1985

Space science and technology has become an essential field for countries seeking to develop their infrastructures and human resources in various areas, including academic, technical and economic. Arab states have understood the strategic nature of space and have invested millions or even billions of dollars in various programs.

In addition to information and telecommunications, there are a number of strategic, educational and commercial benefits to space science and technology programs. 

Strategically, governments must monitor their lands for both natural and human activity, ranging from environmental changes to illegal activities such as smuggling, not to mention military actions.

Educationally, when involved in space projects, students learn to design satellites and instruments and tackle current problems by using the rich data that one can obtain with satellites. Furthermore, the skills that students acquire through such projects can serve them in a wide range of careers. The burgeoning Arab space age needs a broad base of young experts and enthusiasts who tomorrow will be innovating in both basic and applied space research. This requires the engagement of a whole ecosystem of institutions of various kinds. 




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Feb. 10, 1985.

Commercially, satellites can provide high-definition broadcasts, broadband internet and telephony, real-time imaging of special events or actions (including search and rescue operations), and many other profitable and/or critical ventures. A number of space organizations, including some in the Arab world, have started to compete in this arena. 

The next major milestone that the Arab world, especially the Gulf region, will need to reach is the building of a launch facility, from where rockets carrying satellites and probes can take off. While six Arab states have established space agencies or institutions and some of them (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) operate their own satellites, none have space rocket launch capability or astronaut training facilities. 

The Arab world must pool its financial and human resources to pursue and execute next-generation space projects

Nidhal Guessoum

Such efforts and facilities could be set up regionally. Indeed, calls have been made for the creation of a pan-Arab space agency — similar to the European Space Agency — to coordinate and operate new, ambitious and collective programs. Such a regional agency would help reduce the costs of satellite and probe construction, launch and operation, as well as train astronauts and young experts. 

The Arab world should follow its own Arabsat example, when it worked collectively to provide satellite telecommunications to 21 states. Now it must pool its financial and human resources to pursue and execute next-generation space projects.

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

Enter


keywords

Space programs (technology and exploration) have much to offer to the Arab world at this juncture of its scientific, technical, economic, educational, and cultural development. Space programs now play essential roles in urban planning, land observations and uses, military surveillance, etc. More intangibly, space programs give a nation geopolitical prestige and — quite importantly — inspiration and education avenues for its youth.

Arabsat was a big success in various ways. Now is the time for the Arab world to follow up that achievement by collectively setting a clear, multi-faceted and future-looking space strategy.

  • Nidhal Guessoum, an Arab News columnist, is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. Twitter: @NidhalGuessou


Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
Updated 17 sec ago

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
  • Two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest
  • The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada

DUBAI: A tennis initiative set up by a Dubai teen has garnered support for Autism Awareness Month.

The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada in order to bring together tennis lovers to play in support of a good cause.

The initiative comprised of a tournament organized by Rackets Academy and 17-year-old Hussein.

“I decided to create ACE FOR GOOD’which will allow tennis players to give back to the community through supporting a charitable cause,” she told Arab News. “ACE FOR GOOD’s 2021 Dubai tournament perfectly (suited) Autism Awareness Month, (as did) the willingness of the tennis community to support and … make a difference.”

The two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest.

It was backed by several sponsors including Brand for Less (BFL) Group, Daoud Group, Loca restaurants, Head, Marina Pharmacy Group and the Flower Co.

“BFL Group is so proud of this sponsorship, as we always strive to work for philanthropic causes, since this reflects our values. Nevertheless, sports and fitness-related activities always get our support as we believe in their key role in maintaining our mental health and wellbeing,” Yasser Beydoun, co-founder and managing partner of BFL Group, said.

“We salute Hussein for his initiative and efforts, which made us so excited to take this sponsorship opportunity and support him in achieving this great cause. He showed us that age is never a barrier for doing good; we can all do something good for the community as long as we believe in the cause and in our abilities,” Beydoun added.

As a result of the positive feedback received from players, sponsors, and the tennis community, ACE FOR GOOD is now set to become an annual event in Dubai, with plans also in the works to take it abroad, with a tournament set to take place in Egypt in August.


Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan
Updated 4 min 26 sec ago

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan
  • Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Abdulmajeed Hashem chose for his charity

 

 

JEDDAH: With Ramadan drawing to a close, a family and friends charity celebrated the success of their ninth consecutive year in operation ahead of Eid festivities.

Abdulmajeed Hashem, the 25-year-old founder of Jeddah-based charity Khair for All, told Arab News about how his family and friends played their part in giving and lending a helping hand this holy month.

Whilst endeavoring to get involved in the spirit of Ramadan aged 16, the Jeddah-born Hashem discovered that local charities in his area had too many volunteers. However, he knew that there was no cap on good that can be done — so he founded his own charity.

Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Hashem chose for Khair for All.

“We started in about 2012 with a small group of my cousins and friends. We decided to start by giving out meals for Iftar Sayim,” Hashem told Arab News.

Iftar Sayim is the charitable act of providing ready meals, usually dates, water, laban and a sambosa, to Muslims in Ramadan for them to break their fasts with.

One month worth of essential food items laid out in batches ahead of packaging and distributing. (Zeina Sweidan)

“That simple beginning turned into something that grew in size, in number of volunteers, in effort — we just kind of started from there and it naturally grew.”

Hashem and his team purchased Iftar Sayim meals using their own money and began distributing them in the suburbs of Jeddah — soon they found themselves in a daily routine they could not do without.

“Meeting here everyday, setting up the packs and distributing them ourselves has really been a bonding experience with our group,” he said. “We really enjoy this activity — it’s become a part of our Ramadan that’s very important to us.”

A less fortunate suburb in Jeddah receiving Khair for All monthly packages. (Hussain Abedi)

The global health crisis did not stand in the way of the charity’s vision for 2021, and while adjustments had to be made and precautions taken, they swiftly adapted and made the necessary changes for another successful Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has played a role in getting the youth moving, according to the Khair for All founder. “I feel like with the new direction a lot more of my friends have been more willing to volunteer,” he said. “More people are ready to go and take on these projects.

“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in enthusiasm and energy in the past few years, and I think it’s very much linked to the direction of the country.”

Khair for All sets no limits on where and how it can be of service, and so ventured into more sustainable projects in which their effects will be seen in the years to come.

While Iftar Sayim is the basis for why Khair for All began, in 2014 Hashem and his team discovered that there were more ways to help the community than to simply help break their fasts.

Khair for All volunteer stuffing monthly packs of essential food items into the back of his car just before the Maghreb prayer — the time in which Muslims break their fasts. (AN/Zaid Khashogji)

“We later shifted to giving monthly packs,” the Khair for All founder said. “We kind of understood that families needed something more stable, something that would make them not have to worry about where their food was coming in for the next month.”

Since then, packaging monthly supplies consisting of basic goods and necessities has become the primary activity of the charity — and they soon found themselves working with local schools.

“We like to have more of a lasting impact in the places we’re helping out, rather than just providing a meal and then going back home,” Hashem said. “We want to provide something to the communities that we can see grow ourselves, so we’re really focusing a lot on education.”

Hashem and the team began pooling money together each year to improve the state of impoverished schools in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 emphasizes a lot of the power the youth can have,” he said. “We believe any way we can make the schools a better learning environment for the kids would be a way of having a more lasting impact.

“We do a lot of work getting new chairs, painting and providing internet — and I hope we can continue to do more things like that in the future.”

Hashem believes that more direct communication with people in the community is necessary to address the real underlying issues, rather than just basing measures on assumptions.

“Basically, put our energy into what they tell us they need,” he said. “Talk to everyone there, and get to know them really well — that way, it’s addressing actual problems.”


Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
Updated 17 min 53 sec ago

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
  • The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday
  • Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver

LONDON: A juvenile minke whale that became stranded in London’s River Thames has been put down after its condition deteriorated and vets decided it could not survive in the open water.
The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday and was washed ashore at a set of gates controlling water flow.
Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver, instead of toward the sea.
“The last 45 minutes we were with the whale its condition was deteriorating, its breathing wasn’t right and it wouldn’t have survived much longer,” BDMLR national coordinator Julia Cable said late Monday.
She said vets from London Zoo injected a “large” anaesthetic dose into the malnourished whale. It is thought the whale got separated from its mother and was unable to fend for itself.
“It’s always sad, but we now know that putting it back out into the open sea would have been sending it to starve out there,” Cable said.
Minke whales are the smallest of the world’s great whales and typically grow to a length of 10 meters in adulthood.
They can usually be found throughout the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans but have been spotted as far north as the Arctic and as far south as the Equator.
In January 2006, a northern bottlenose whale became stuck in the Thames, sparking huge media interest. It died as it was being ferried back out to sea.


Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
Updated 11 May 2021

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
  • Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year

DUBAI: The Middle East saw a 5 percent increase in its renewable energy capacity in 2020, as the region’s push to go greener stalled.
Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year, according to a report by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Growth in the sector slowed from the 13 percent increase in renewables capacity achieved between 2018 and 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on projects in the pipeline.
Still, the targets set by countries in the region could translate into a combined 80 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, IRENA said.
The global agency said the regional renewables push goes hand-in-hand with the Middle East’s ambition to diversify its economy, with projects typically bringing other economic benefits.
“The region recognizes the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy deployment, which is perceived as an opportunity for industrial diversification, new value-chain activities and technology transfer,” IRENA said.
The UAE has grown its renewable energy capacity from just 13MW in 2011 to 2,540 MW capacity in 2020. Saudi Arabia’s capacity also grew significantly over nine years – starting at only 3MW and increasing to 413 MW last year.


Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
Updated 11 May 2021

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
  • IOC’s refineries at 95 percent of their capacity in late April
  • Several Indian states remain under lockdown

NEW DELHI: India’s top oil refiners are reducing processing runs and crude imports as the surging COVID-19 pandemic has cut fuel consumption, leading to higher product stockpiles at the plants, company officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
Indian Oil Corp, the country’s biggest refiner, has reduced runs to an average of between 85 percent and 88 percent of processing capacity, a company official said, adding runs could be cut further as some plants are facing problems storing refined oil products.
IOC’s refineries were operating at about 95 percent of their capacity in late April.
“We do not anticipate that our crude processing would be reduced to last year’s level of 65 percent-70 percent as inter-state vehicle movement is still there ... (the) economy is functioning,” he said.
Several states across India are under lockdown as the coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high, although the government of India, the world’s third largest oil importer and consumer, has not implemented a full lockdown.
State-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. has cut its crude imports by 1 million barrels in May and will reduce purchases by 2 million barrels in June, a company official said.
M.K. Surana, chairman of Hindustan Petroleum Corp, expects India’s fuel consumption in May to fall by 5 percent from April as the impact on driving and industrial production is not as severe as last year.
“This time it is not a full lockdown like last time,” he said.
“Sales in April was about 90 percent of March and we expect May could be about 5 percent lower than April.”