Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come
Col. Chris Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 January 2022

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come
  • The Saudi Space Commission was launched in Dec. 2018 under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform agenda
  • The state-funded body has struck cooperation agreements with the European Space Agency, UK, France and Hungary

JEDDAH: More than half a century ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the surface of the moon. Since this historic milestone, governments, scientists and now entrepreneurs have set their sights on more distant and ambitious goals.

From Jeff Bezos’ forays into space tourism with Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s dream of establishing colonies on Mars to NASA’s launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and the UAE’s Hope probe mission to Mars, space, it seems, is once again all the rage.

The Apollo astronauts’ momentous moonwalk of July 20, 1969, marked the culmination of more than a decade of breakneck scientific advance, fueled by the fierce Cold War-era contest between the US and the Soviet Union known as the “space race.”

Decades later, and with the benefits of vastly superior technologies, private sector finance, and a global profusion of scientific and engineering talent, a new space race led by the world’s emerging economies and wealthiest individuals is now underway.
 




Saudi Arabia is well placed to capitalize on falling costs of launching rockets, advances in technology, and a growing public interest in space exploration. (Supplied)

A recent entrant in this new space race is the Saudi Space Commission, or SSC, launched three years ago by royal decree — its mission: To accelerate economic diversification, enhance research and development, and raise private sector participation in the global space industry.

Since its launch in December 2018, the Kingdom’s state-funded space program has struck deals with the European Space Agency, the UK, France, and Hungary to further cooperation.

The agency has also signed agreements with aerospace giant Airbus, joined the International Astronautical Federation, and launched illustrious scholarship programs to allow Saudi students to attend the world’s best universities offering courses in space sciences and aerospace engineering.

Although its space agency is relatively new, the Kingdom has a long history of involvement in satellite technology, much of it emanating from the King Abdul Aziz City of Science and Technology in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia also played a key role in the Arab League’s formation of Arabsat, a satellite communications company, which launched its first satellite in 1985.

“The beauty is that you’re not starting from zero,” Col. Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

“Even NASA, when they were formed in the late 1950s, they weren’t starting from zero. NACA, which was the predecessor to NASA, had been around since the 1920s, when the government recognized that aeronautics was coming.”
 




In Col. Chris Hadfield’s view, the SSC should now set out to clearly define its goals for the future of Saudi space exploration. (SPA)

Hadfield is well known for his hugely popular video segments depicting life aboard the ISS, which famously included a zero-gravity guitar rendition of David Bowie’s "Space Oddity."

A heavily decorated astronaut, engineer and pilot, his many awards include the Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Cross and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He was also named the top test pilot in both the US Air Force and the US Navy, and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Hadfield has flown three space missions, building two space stations, performing two spacewalks, crewing the Shuttle and Soyuz, and commanding the ISS.

Now retired, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, an adviser to SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, board chair of the Open Lunar Foundation, and the author of three international bestsellers. His TED talk on fear has been watched 11 million times.

In Hadfield’s view, the SSC should now set out to clearly define its goals for the future of Saudi space exploration.

“The real key is to have a clear purpose for what the space agency is trying to accomplish, aims that are in line with serving the people of Saudi in the short and long term,” he said.

The ISS remains a potent symbol of human fraternity as well as the huge technological and scientific possibilities on offer when societies work toward a common end.

The space station’s history began on July 17, 1975, when Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and American astronaut Deke Slayton shook hands in microgravity, having docked their spacecraft high above the French city of Metz.
 




Col. Chris Hadfield said it is this kind of human fraternity, together with an enduring sense of duty, that will empower further innovations and new milestones in space exploration. (Supplied)

The handshake was the byproduct of a 1972 agreement between the two nations to cooperate on the Apollo-Soyuz Test project. The US built a docking module for the Apollo shuttle that was compatible with the Soviet docking system to allow a flawless rendezvous.

Their meeting became a powerful symbol of unity, which paved the way for the joint Shuttle-Mir program and later the ISS itself.

Building a space agency is no easy feat. As a multidisciplinary domain, the industry demands a wide range of skills and expertise. Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in the sector and already has several achievements to its name.

In February 2019, the Kingdom launched its first domestically developed communications satellite — SGS-1 — from the Guiana Space Center. The launch was the result of a partnership between KACST and US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

In 2020, Saudi Arabia announced plans to invest $2.1 billion in the space program as part of its Vision 2030 reform agenda, the Kingdom’s long-term plan to diversify its economy away from oil and embrace a wide array of next-generation industries.
 




Prince Sultan bin Salman (closest to the camera) is the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space. (Supplied)

“In the time we live in now, space is becoming a fundamental sector of the global economy, touching every aspect of our lives on Earth,” Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space, said at the time.

“Space business and the space economy are expected to grow into the trillions of riyals as we go forward. We believe there are a lot of opportunities that exist in the space sector and we, in Saudi Arabia, intend to tap these opportunities at all levels.”

In order to excel in space, the Kingdom will need an army of technical specialists in areas as diverse as cybersecurity, avionics and robotics, together with experts in propulsion, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“If you look right across the world’s governments, there’s some subset that is working in the areas that are naturally space related, like telecommunications, atmospheric physics, weather forecasting or the military side of threats; there’s always the high ground advantage,” Hadfield told Arab News, highlighting the benefits of building a domestic space industry.

“It’s scientific in just trying to understand the Earth better. If you can go around (Earth) 16 times a day, if you can set a geostationary satellite that is looking at the whole (Arabian) peninsula, that whole part of the world, there is a huge amount of information to be gathered that is really difficult to gather from the surface.

“Then there is the technological development side. If you’re going to challenge yourself to build a satellite or build rocket ships or train people to fly to space or be part of the space station, start setting up a permanent human habitation on the moon, that’s a big technological challenge and that is good for the country from the academic side right through to the manufacturing side.”

But more than the obvious economic, scientific and strategic benefits, Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations.
 




Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations. (Supplied)

“Apart from the scientific research and the technical development, it is raising people’s eyes beyond the horizon,” he said.

“Space exploration has a significant role in inspiring people to visualize a different future, to attempt things with their own lives, to train themselves to gain a new set of skills and turn themselves into somebody different in pursuit of being an astronaut that otherwise they might never have done with themselves. That, to me, that’s an important component.”

Saudi Arabia is well placed to capitalize on falling costs of launching rockets, advances in technology, and a growing public interest in space exploration. Its willingness to work with other space agencies is also a foretaste of exciting collaborations to come.

Reflecting on his own career in space, Hadfield said it is this kind of human fraternity, together with an enduring sense of duty, that will empower further innovations and new milestones in space exploration.

“It’s a life of service,” he said. “Service to agency, service to country and service to others.”

 

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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Saudi students who won ISEF 2022 awards celebrated upon return to Riyadh

Abdullah Al-Ghamdi won two prizes in energy for his project on the production and storage of hydrogen. (AN photo/Basheer Saleh)
Abdullah Al-Ghamdi won two prizes in energy for his project on the production and storage of hydrogen. (AN photo/Basheer Saleh)
Updated 16 May 2022

Saudi students who won ISEF 2022 awards celebrated upon return to Riyadh

Abdullah Al-Ghamdi won two prizes in energy for his project on the production and storage of hydrogen. (AN photo/Basheer Saleh)
  • ‘Our talented students are the true wealth of Saudi Arabia and the solid building blocks of our society’

RIYADH: Over 35 Saudi students who picked up 22 awards at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia, landed in Riyadh on Sunday and were greeted with a celebratory reception at King Khalid International Airport.

The ISEF 2022, held from May 7-13, saw the participation of pre-college students from over 80 countries in the biggest competition showcasing innovation in scientific research and advancement.

Student Abdullah Al-Ghamdi won two prizes in energy for his project on the production and storage of hydrogen, earning him the award for “Best Research Scientist,” in which he competed against over 1,700 submissions from students across 65 countries.

Girls received prizes in chemistry, material sciences, and embedded systems.

“The happiness I’m feeling for my son Abdullah can’t be described,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Ghamdi, the student’s father. “To see the vision of my Kingdom come true before my eyes and for my son to be a driving force behind realizing this vision is a feeling that truly can’t be described.”

Al-Ghamdi’s father told Arab News that his son would spend his time at a research center after school, where he became fascinated with the idea of how to store hydrogen efficiently. “The fruits of his hard work are seen today,” he said.

When the crown prince said that the Saudis’ strength was like that of the Tuwaiq Mountain, unbreakable, Mawhiba saw in his words a road map for its initiatives.

Dr. Saud bin Saeed Al-Mathami, Mawhiba Secretary-General

Five other first-place prizes were awarded to Dana Al-Eithan and Maria Al-Ghamdi, who won in chemistry; Tahani Adel, who won in material sciences; and Yousef Khoja, who won in embedded systems.

Al-Eithan’s uncle, Abdulmunim Al-Eithan, told Arab News that the family was sitting on the couch when they heard the news and sprung into the air in excitement, cheering. “This is a result of her dedication to this field,” he said, adding that the 14-year-old had also previously won an award with SABIC for chemistry.

Six students — three Saudis and three Americans — were also granted scholarships to participate in an international enrichment program organized by King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, known as Mawhiba.

Thirteen students from the US, India and China were also awarded scholarships to study bachelor’s programs at King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals in chemistry, embedded systems, energy, physics and astronomy, robotics and material sciences.

The Kingdom was represented by the Ministry of Education and by Mawhiba.

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh tweeted on Saturday: “I proudly congratulate my sons and daughters who won the International Science and Engineering Fair 2022. The Kingdom has won an unprecedented 22 awards with the support of our wise leadership — may God support it — and the unremitting efforts of their teachers and families. I am pleased to announce the provision of scholarships to the winning students in appreciation of this national achievement.”

Mawhiba Secretary-General Dr. Saud bin Saeed Al-Mathami said that he is encouraging innovative students worldwide to create sustainable solutions to the world’s problems and preserve these resources for future generations.

He stressed that the Kingdom takes pride in its students, saying the country had harnessed its great potential to qualify them to compete effectively in international forums.

“When the crown prince said that the Saudis’ strength was like that of the Tuwaiq Mountain, unbreakable, Mawhiba saw in his words a road map for its initiatives,” he said.

“Our talented students are the true wealth of Saudi Arabia and the solid building blocks of our society. They are the real future that we are looking forward to, and their familiarity in all disciplines and specializations will push forward Saudi Vision 2030,” Al-Mathami added.

“The talented students excelled in all disciplines related to energy, climate change, medicine, biosciences, space, medical and environmental engineering, organic materials, technology, innovation, information engineering and artificial intelligence.

“They underwent extensive training for long hours and rigorous testing under the supervision of competent committees to honor Saudi Arabia in international forums.”


British experts to qualify Saudis in railway sector

The agreement was signed in presence of Dr. Majed Al-Qasabi, Saleh Al-Jasser, Wendy Morton, and other officials. (SPA)
The agreement was signed in presence of Dr. Majed Al-Qasabi, Saleh Al-Jasser, Wendy Morton, and other officials. (SPA)
Updated 46 min 8 sec ago

British experts to qualify Saudis in railway sector

The agreement was signed in presence of Dr. Majed Al-Qasabi, Saleh Al-Jasser, Wendy Morton, and other officials. (SPA)
  • More than 400 graduates will be able to work in various disciplines in the rail transport business

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia aspires to strengthen its position as a global logistics hub connecting three continents, improve services and increase integration between logistics systems and modern modes of transportation.

Eng. Abdulaziz Al-Sugair, the director general of the Saudi Railway Polytechnic Institute, and Munir Jolamyehiya, the director general of the British X-Rail Group, signed a training agreement to train Saudis in the railway industry in the Kingdom.

The agreement was signed in presence of the chairman of the Saudi-British Joint Economic Committee, Dr. Majed Al-Qasabi, the Saudi Minister of Transport Saleh Al-Jasser, the UK Minister of Railways Wendy Morton, Dr. Rumaih Al-Rumaih, the chairman of the Public Transport Authority and the Saudi Railway Polytechnic Institute, and Saudi Deputy Minister of Transport and Logistics Services Eng. Badr Abdullah Al-Dalami.

FASTFACT

The agreement was signed in presence of the chairman of the Saudi-British Joint Economic Committee, Dr. Majed Al-Qasabi, Saudi Minister of Transport Saleh Al-Jasser, UK Minister of Railways Wendy Morton, Dr. Rumaih Al-Rumaih, the chairman of the Public Transport Authority and the Saudi Railway Polytechnic Institute, and Saudi Deputy Minister of Transport and Logistics Services Eng. Badr Abdullah Al-Dalami.

Al-Sugair said the collaboration with X-Rail Group is a new step towards the development of national skills in transportation, particularly rail transport services. He stated that the agreement intends to train and qualify high school graduates and equip them to work in a variety of industries. These include signaling, communication, and railway control systems, in order to assist the transportation labor market and meet the growing demand for specialist cadres in this industry.

Chairman of the Saudi-British Joint Economic Committee, Dr. Majed Abdullah Al-Qasabi pose for a group photo with Saudi and UK officials in Riyadh. (SPA)

The training term lasts 18 months, with 12 months spent at the institute and 6 months spent on the job at the company’s facilities, or on projects that it executes, operates, and maintains.

More than 400 graduates were able to work in various disciplines in the rail transport business since 2021, according to the institute.

Among the goals of the National Strategy for Transport and Logistics Services is to increase the total lengths of future railways to 8,080 km, including the “land bridge” project with a length of more than 1,300 km, which will have a capacity of more than 3 million passengers and more than 50 million tons of freight annually.

Other goals include connecting the Kingdom’s ports on the Arabian Gulf coast with the ports on the Red Sea coast. New and exciting opportunities for this line will be created by it passing through modern logistic centers, economic activity centers, industrial cities and mining operations, enhancing the Kingdom’s logistic performance index to be among the top ten in the world.

“Training plays a big role in employing job-seekers,” believes Awwad Al-Dhafeeri, CEO of Shabakat ABAD training Institute.

Awwad Al-Dhafeeri, CEO of Shabakat ABAD training Institute.

Al-Dhafeeri told Arab News that jobs that demand specific abilities necessitate greater training to master the work, pointing to the profound changes that have occurred in professions as a result of expanding technology.

In previous decades, job acceptance was based on simple skills, and employees would acquire further necessary skills with experience, but at the moment, most jobs are concentrated in the private sector, which prefers employees to already have the required skill, with the rate of job acceptance much higher for those who have training in modern-age areas than those who do not.

Al-Dhafeeri, who has spent about 15 years in the management of training centers, advises young people not to rely entirely on educational attainment during their years of study in order to get jobs, but rather to get the appropriate training during their studies, including universities so that they can compete after graduation.

Since “we live in an era of digital transformation and the use of technology in various areas of life where the machine has replaced the human,” and many employment opportunities have been lost, he said, young people must hone their skills through training related to technological skills, according to their competence.


Saudi academic research ranking 17th globally

Saudi academic research ranking 17th globally. (SPA)
Saudi academic research ranking 17th globally. (SPA)
Updated 21 sec ago

Saudi academic research ranking 17th globally

Saudi academic research ranking 17th globally. (SPA)
  • SCImago Rankings have been a leading international annual classification system for research outcomes since 1996

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s universities and research-related institutions have been ranked 17th in the world for their pioneering project work.
The country’s position in the SCImago Rankings 2021 league table has now jumped up on two occasions, from 21st last year, and 26th in 2018.
Ongoing support from the Saudi leadership and Ministry of Education has been credited for helping the Kingdom’s academics enhance the quality of scientific research, and initiatives and projects being conducted with universities under the ministry’s supervision.
SCImago Rankings have been a leading international annual classification system for research outcomes since 1996.
It is a publicly available portal that includes the journals and country scientific indicators developed from the information contained in the Scopus database. These indicators can be used to assess and analyze scientific domains.
Journals can be compared or analysed separately, and country rankings may also be compared or analysed separately.
 


Repopulation plan: Saudi Arabia’s Soudah Development welcomes newborn ibex

Soudah Development introduced 15 endangered ibex in the Soudah area. (SPA)
Soudah Development introduced 15 endangered ibex in the Soudah area. (SPA)
Updated 8 min 6 sec ago

Repopulation plan: Saudi Arabia’s Soudah Development welcomes newborn ibex

Soudah Development introduced 15 endangered ibex in the Soudah area. (SPA)
  • Located in the Asir region in the southwest of the Kingdom, the juniper-covered mountains of Soudah are home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, situated more than 3,000m above sea level

ABHA: Soudah Development, a company of the Public Investment Fund, announced that six newborn Nubian ibex have been welcomed after the company launched a repopulation program last December in cooperation with the National Center for Wildlife.
It is part of efforts by the company to maintain the environment and protect the endangered species.
Soudah Development introduced 15 endangered ibex in the Soudah area with the aim of relocating endangered wild animals and protecting the natural environment in the region.
The initiative contributes to supporting the Kingdom’s environmental efforts.
Soudah Development continues its efforts to preserve biodiversity, restore environmental balance and encourage sustainability in Soudah, which is home to several important species, including the ibex.
Located in the Asir region in the southwest of the Kingdom, the juniper-covered mountains of Soudah are home to the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, situated more than 3,000m above sea level.

 


Who’s Who: Talal Al-Tuwaijri, deputy minister at Saudi Ministry of Health

Talal bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Tuwaijri
Talal bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Tuwaijri
Updated 16 May 2022

Who’s Who: Talal Al-Tuwaijri, deputy minister at Saudi Ministry of Health

Talal bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Tuwaijri

Talal bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Tuwaijri was appointed deputy minister for planning and transformation at the Ministry of Health in 2020.
He holds four other medicine-related positions, including head of vision realization at the Ministry of Health.
The Vision Realization Office aims to achieve the objectives of both the 2020 National Transformation Program and Saudi Vision 2030, monitoring transformational initiatives, tracking implementation progress, and continuously assessing performance and quality.
The office also seeks to create a motivational, productive work environment to attract talented people, and work within the Vision 2030 governance framework to ensure disciplined internal operations and alignment with other government agencies.
Al-Tuwaijri  is also the secretary-general of the board of directors of the Medical Cities and Specialized Centers, which aims to provide the best medical services at the highest levels, specialized medical care, and contribute to the establishment of high-level rules and standards for the practice of professionals in medical cities and specialized hospitals.
He is also associate professor and consultant of vascular surgery at King Saud University in Riyadh, and a vascular surgery consultant at King Khaled University Hospital.
Al-Tuwaijri served as CEO of Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz General Hospital in Riyadh. Through his previous experience at the Ministry of Health, he has increased productivity and efficiency in various medical fields.
He has a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery from King Saud University, which he received in 2000, and in 2007 received a fellowship in vascular surgery. In 2019, he also undertook a vascular surgery fellowship from the University of Calgary.