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

Special 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 tour guides shine at NEOM’s The Line exhibition

Saudi tour guides shine at NEOM’s The Line exhibition
Updated 12 August 2022

Saudi tour guides shine at NEOM’s The Line exhibition

Saudi tour guides shine at NEOM’s The Line exhibition
  • Details of NEOM project on full display at the exhibition
  • About 49 tours are organised per day, allowing visitors to grasp the scope and complexity of the project’s designs

JEDDAH: An exhibition exploring Saudi Arabia’s ambitious The Line project is leaving visitors enthralled thanks to the work of specialist tour guides.

The details of the NEOM project are on full display at the exhibition, hosted at the Jeddah Superdome. Visitors of all age groups will get first-hand insights with the help of the Saudi tour guides, who explain visual displays in both Arabic and English.

The guides are bringing the exhibition to life with about 49 tours per day, allowing visitors to grasp the scope and complexity of the project’s designs, architectural concepts and engineering capabilities.  

Speaking to Arab News, several tour guides expressed their enthusiasm at taking part in the exhibition and playing a small but important role in NEOM. 

One of the guides, Ragad Seit, said: “The experience is beyond wonderful. I love the excitement on the people’s faces while we explain the details of The Line. It is amazing to see the excitement they have for this revolutionary project and watching that makes me feel that it’s worth being a part of this exhibition. I am sure this will be a great movement for the future and we can’t wait to see the completion of The Line.”

Another young guide, Ghalya Faisal Alsahhaf, said: “My job here is to explain the unique and rare NEOM flora that will be grown in The Line. The experience is definitely one of a kind where I get to educate people on the vegetation aspect.

“The look on the people when they learn about the different kinds of flora is incredible. Also, I get to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds where I interact with them about the exhibition, and have discussions. The enthusiasm of the visitors is unimaginable.”

Abdulaziz Salmin said: “Although I am here as a tour guide, I am very proud to be a part of NEOM and work on this project.

“I work on sections one and two where I explain to the people what The Line is all about. The thrill and anticipation that the public show is very similar to my excitement. I am eagerly waiting to see how the city will turn out, especially after learning a lot more about it through this exhibition,” Salmin added.

Apart from tour guides, NEOM officials are also present at the exhibition to assist those looking for in-depth answers. 

The Jeddah exhibition opens its doors from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. until Aug. 14, before moving to the Eastern Province and then staying in Riyadh.

“I learned about the project for the first time on social media and I was so excited to get my own first impression of the revolutionary model of The Line. I’m so excited to see this in reality,” Mohammad Ali, a visitor, said.

“Besides, we now understand more about the project with the help of the tour guides. It’s true that they can take the visitors on a whole different journey,” he added.

Another visitor, Raees Ali, said: “The tour guide turned my experience into a most pleasurable one by answering my questions and providing the information available in a clear and simple way.

“The project definitely looks futuristic and promising. After the tour, I did have many technical questions in my mind, but I am certain that they will be answered in the coming days. Hopefully, I would really like to relocate to this dreamy place.”

Saed H. was awestruck at The Line’s designs on display at the exhibition and is excited to see how the city will look after construction. 

“It is definitely a good idea to have a guide who gives some interesting details. I was surprised to learn about the football stadium in the city which will be embedded in a way where the city itself will turn towards the stadium and become the venue. All these details are so mind-blowing that the visitors were awe-inspired by this dreamy world. We really look forward to seeing it come to life,” said Saed.

Divided into different sections, the displays at the exhibition detail urban living plans being implemented in the city. The Line follows a human-first approach with health and well-being prioritized over transportation and infrastructure.

Free tickets can be booked through the Hala Yalla application for events.


Terrorist detonates suicide vest as Saudi security forces try to make arrest 

Terrorist detonates suicide vest as Saudi security forces try to make arrest 
Updated 23 min 20 sec ago

Terrorist detonates suicide vest as Saudi security forces try to make arrest 

Terrorist detonates suicide vest as Saudi security forces try to make arrest 
  • Abdullah bin Zayed Abdulrahman Al-Bakri Al-Shehri was listed as a wanted person by Saudi authorities

JEDDAH: The list of the nine wanted individuals involved in a terrorist operation that targeted a mosque for Saudi Arabia’s special emergency forces in the southwestern Asir region in 2015 has been reduced, after the Presidency of State Security announced the killing of Abdullah Al-Shehri, who has been number four on a wanted list.
The man detonated a suicide vest he was wearing when security forces attempted to arrest him in Jeddah on Friday.
The spokesman for the Presidency of State Security said that in addition to the statement issued in February 2016 regarding the announcement of a list of the nine wanted persons for the security authorities, and as an extension of the existing security follow-up, the authority was able to track down the number four on the wanted list, Abdullah bin Zayed Abdulrahman Al-Bakri Al-Shehri, during a security operation.
He had been approached by security personnel at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday in the Al-Samer neighborhood in Jeddah. He died at the scene and a Pakistani resident and three security men with various injuries were taken to hospital to receive the necessary treatment.
Al-Shehri has been listed as a wanted person by authorities in the Kingdom for the past seven years, according to the statement. 
Security forces had tracked down the location of the terrorist and launched an operation to arrest him when he set off his suicide vest. 

With this announcement, only one wanted person remained from the announced list, Majid bin Zayed Al-Bakri Al-Shehri, who has been in hiding so far. The list included:
1. Saeed Aaidh Al-Dair Al-Shahrani, who was killed during a raid in Makkah in May 2016.
2. Taya Salem Eslam Al-Saiari was killed in a raid on his house in the Al-Yasmeen neighborhood in Riyadh in 2017.
3. Mutee Salem Islaam Al-Saiari was killed by a terrorist organization and it is believed that Taya’s sister beheaded him in a house in Al-Harazat neighborhood in Jeddah following orders from Daesh leaders after they doubted his intention to surrender to the security authorities in November 2016.
4. Abdulaziz Ahmed Mohammed Al-Bakri Al-Shehri was killed during a siege with another wanted man in the Barah area in Bisha governorate in April 2016.
5. Aqab Moajab Fazaan Al-Otaibi, who was arrested in Bisha in May 2016.
6. Mohammed Suleiman Rahyan Al-Saqri Al-Anzi was killed in a raid in Wadi Numan in Makkah in May 2016.
7. Mubarak Abdullah Fahad Al-Dosari was killed in a raid in Wadi Numan in Makkah in May 2016
8. Majid bin Zayed Al-Bakri Al-Shehri is still in hiding.
The nine terrorists affiliated with Daesh were involved in a terrorist attack that targeted worshipers at the Special Emergency Forces Command Mosque in Asir on Aug. 6, which killed 11 security officials and four Bangladeshi workers on the site, while 33 other people were injured.
The Presidency of State Security said the operation confirms the Kingdom’s determination to crack down on terrorists and ensure the safety of all citizens and residents. 


Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish

Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish
Updated 12 August 2022

Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish

Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish
  • Plant Cafe opened its doors to Jazan residents seven months ago

The sleepy southwestern city of Abu Arish in Jazan province is known for producing and exporting salt and, more recently, for a cafe that combines the perfect blend of salty and sweet.

Seven months ago, Plant Cafe opened its doors to residents of the area, and Jazan city should take notice.

One recent evening, Plant Cafe was full of coffee enthusiasts, sipping cold drinks on the velvety green chairs and scrolling their phones at the terrazzo-patterned tables.

With strategically-placed full-length mirrors spread along the pathway to the seating areas, the photogenic cafe offers a variety of spots for the perfect mirror selfie.

In the back, colorful portraits of famous figures are hung on a wall. The wooden spiral stairs— with green plants draped along them — lead to the second floor seating area.

Limited seating is also available outdoors for those who dare to sit and sip in the searing heat.

With the sound of the steaming espresso machine and soft music piped into the space, the cute coffee cups illustrated with farmers gathering flowers and plants are always being filled.

The must-try items include the cold lemon strawberry trifle in a jar. With bits of rich cheesecake, a drizzling of tart strawberry sauce, smooth cream and a bit of fresh lemon on top, it is layered decadence to be enjoyed with a spoon, and conveniently offered in a sealed portable jar — the perfect portion for a late-night sweet tooth craving or afternoon pick-me-up.

The cafe opens bright and early until late night six days of the week, from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. On Fridays, it is open from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.


Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities

Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities
Updated 12 August 2022

Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities

Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities
  • An investigation into the assault has been launched and the Public Prosecution will be taking the necessary legal measures against him, an official source confirms

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested an expat for assaulting a child with disabilities after video footage of the incident was circulated online, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Thursday. 

Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujeb issued an arrest warrant for the Egyptian resident who was seen beating a child on CCTV footage in a neighborhood in the town Wadi ad-Dawasir in Najd. 

An investigation into the assault has been launched and the Public Prosecution will be taking the necessary legal measures against him, an official source confirmed to SPA. 

The Kingdom’s penal code protects children from abuse, the source said, adding that the victim would be receiving counseling in line with the child protection law.


Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia

Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia
Updated 12 August 2022

Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia

Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Security forces in Saudi Arabia have arrested a man carrying 54 kg of the stimulant khat, state news agency (SPA) reported.

The narcotics were found in the accused’s vehicle as he drove in Jazan region.

He has been referred to relevant authorities for further action, the SPA statement said.

The arrest comes as the country cracks down on the smuggling and use of illegal and controlled substances.

Earlier this week, Saudi authorities arrested 70 people for trying to smuggle about 70 tons of khat and 618 kg of hashish into the Kingdom.