Saudi Center for Space Futures will support lunar mission and $2tn global space economy, NASA chief tells Asharq TV

Short Url
Updated 16 May 2024

Saudi Center for Space Futures will support lunar mission and $2tn global space economy, NASA chief tells Asharq TV

Saudi Center for Space Futures will support lunar mission and $2tn global space economy, NASA chief tells Asharq TV
  • New center will bring space industries together with government programs, says Bill Nelson on Riyadh visit 
  • NASA plans to “go back to the moon” with commercial and international partners, agency chief tells Maya Hojeij

RIYADH: The Center for Space Futures, hosted by the Saudi Space Agency, will bring together space industries to send a mission to the moon and build a $2 trillion global space economy by 2035, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has said.

During a visit to Riyadh this week, the US space agency chief said in a special interview with the Asharq TV channel: “The future of the space center is to bring together space industries, commercial companies, together with the government programs.”

On April 29, the Saudi Space Agency and the World Economic Forum signed an agreement to establish a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution focused on space.

The World Economic Forum and the Saudi Space Agency signed an agreement to establish the Center for Space Futures. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Bin Shalhoubh) 

Set to open in the fall of 2024, the Center for Space Futures will be the first center in the C4IR network. It aims to facilitate public-private discussions on space collaboration and contribute to accelerating space technologies.

Nelson told business anchor Maya Hojeij that, after a hiatus of half a century, NASA plans to “go back to the moon.” However, he added: “This time with not only commercial partners, but also with international partners.”

He highlighted that the Center for Space Futures will “bring together those commercial and government programs in order to build a significant space economy.”

Earlier this year, NASA announced that its Artemis II lunar mission will aim to land the first astronauts near the moon’s South Pole in September 2025.

On May 21, 2023, Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi (L) and Ali Al-Qarni (R) launched toward the International Space Station together with American astronauts Peggy Whitson (2R) and pilot John Shoffner (2L). (Axiom Space photo/file)

NASA’s administrator added: “We’re talking about a space economy that will be almost $2 trillion dollars by the year 2035 — only a little over a decade away — a significant part of the economic sector of a country.”

Elaborating, he said that the “$2 trillion is worldwide. And that is a lot of startup companies, such as I have seen here in Riyadh today, that are partnering with other companies from around the world that are including incentives by the Saudi government.

“So, we do that in America, and that’s where I mentioned that we’re going back to the moon, this time after a half century, because we were on the moon a half-century ago.

“This time, we’re going back to the moon for a different reason, we’re going to learn, to invent, to create in order to be able to go to Mars and beyond. And this time we go back with commercial enterprises.”

NASA’s Apollo 17, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in December 2022, was the space agency’s sixth and final mission to land people on the moon.

The mission landed on the Taurus-Littrow site, which offered a mix of mountainous highlands and valley lowlands, allowing the crew to collect 741 lunar samples.

Nelson told Asharq’s Hojeij that NASA has partnered with Saudi Arabia on multiple scientific instruments to send Artemis II to the moon for economic benefits and to better understand climate change.

During a meeting organized by the Saudi Space Agency and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh, Saudi space officials met with NASA chief Bill Nelson and discussed ways to deepen the cooperation in the fields of space. (Courtesy: SSA)

“We have a partnership with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We’ve already partnered on a number of scientific instruments, but we’ve got a whole way to go.

“We’re going back to the moon and then we’re going to Mars. We are constantly looking down on Earth to help our climate, to better understand what is happening to the Earth, to give very precise measurements of exactly what’s happening there.

“We’re going to coordinate and partner with Saudi Arabia on all of these things.”

Asked about space challenges and how the partnership between Riyadh and Washington sought to address them, Nelson said that debris in space was among the biggest threats to satellites and spacecraft.

“Debris in space is a major problem,” he said. “We are too often having to move our International Space Station to get it out of the way of a piece of space junk that otherwise could hit it.

“Same thing with a lot of our satellites. And so that applies to everybody’s satellites, not just US satellites, Saudi satellites.”

Nelson added that NASA was working with partners “to come up with systems and mechanisms by which we can require the manufacturers of satellites to be able, after their useful life, have a precise landing back through the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up and if any pieces are left over, that they would fall harmlessly in the southern Pacific Ocean.”

Underscoring the importance of these efforts, he said that “whenever something is left in space, it becomes a dangerous projectile that could always ram into something, like our space station.”

The UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security, in its Interconnected Disaster Risks 2023 report, included space debris among its six risk tipping points.

The report, released in February, found that there were 35,150 tracked objects in orbit in 2023. Just 25 percent of these were working satellites while the rest were considered junk, including broken satellites and rocket parts.

This illustration from the Interconnected Disaster Risks 2023 report of the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security shows computer-generated images of objects in Earth orbit being tracked as of January 2019. Approximately 95% of the objects in the illustration, according to the report that included space debris among its six risk tipping points. (Credit: UNU-EHS)

As objects in space travel at speeds exceeding 25,000 km per hour, any collision may be “catastrophic,” and even the smallest objects can cause significant damage, according to the same UNU-EHS report.

Asked about the Artemis Accords, which Saudi Arabia signed in 2022, the NASA administrator described it as “a common sense set of principles of the peaceful uses of space.

“For example, in the Artemis Accords, we have that you would come to the aid and assistance of a nation that would have a problem in space,” he said.

“We would develop common elements so that you could help each other out, perhaps remotely in space. But, basically, the thrust of it is the peaceful use of space.”

Saudi Arabia is the 21st country globally and the fourth Middle Eastern nation to sign the Artemis Accords, which set out common principles, guidelines and best practices to ensure safe, peaceful and sustainable space exploration.

Nelson’s visit to the Kingdom is intended to explore future collaboration between the US space agency and key government officials, while also emphasizing the significance of civil space cooperation in the broader US-Saudi relationship

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’ and key Saudi government officials explored future collaboration between the US space agency and the Kingdom's space agency. (

The Saudi Space Agency was launched by royal decree in December 2018 to accelerate economic diversification, enhance research and development, and raise private-sector participation in the global space industry.

Since its launch, the Kingdom’s state-funded space program has struck deals with several of the world’s established space agencies, astronautical companies and top universities to benefit from advanced technological cooperation.

Saudi Arabia’s space industry holds great potential for growth after recording $400 million in revenue in 2022, according to a report by the Saudi Communications, Space and Technology Commission published late last year.

The global space economy is projected to expand to $1.8 trillion by 2035, marking a threefold increase from $630 billion in 2023, according to research published by the World Economic Forum in April.

A growing number of businesses across sectors including agriculture, construction, insurance and climate-change mitigation, are expected to drive the new and expanding space economy.

This rapid surge is being driven by reduced costs and broader accessibility to space-enabled technologies, encompassing various commercial sectors such as communications, positioning, navigation, timing, Earth observation services, tourism and manufacturing.

While state-sponsored investments will remain the cornerstone of the industry, enhanced collaboration between various stakeholders across public and private sectors will be increasingly important to fully realize the sector’s potential in the future.


Closing Bell: Saudi benchmark index edges up to close at 12,157

Closing Bell: Saudi benchmark index edges up to close at 12,157
Updated 5 sec ago

Closing Bell: Saudi benchmark index edges up to close at 12,157

Closing Bell: Saudi benchmark index edges up to close at 12,157

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index rose on Wednesday, gaining 34.55 points, or 0.28 percent, to close at 12,157.03. 

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR5.3 billion ($1.413 billion), as 54 stocks advanced while 136 retreated.    

Similarly, the MSCI Tadawul Index increased slightly by 3.54 points, or 0.23 percent, to close at 1,523.94. 

However, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu dipped by 88.34 points, or 0.33 percent, to close at 26,845.00. This comes as 25 stocks advanced while as many as 35 retreated.  

The best-performing stock was Naseej International Trading Co., whose share price surged 9.81 percent to SR81.70. 

Other top performers included Gulf General Cooperative Insurance Co. and Makkah Construction and Development Co., whose share prices soared by 6.68 percent and 6.01 percent, to stand at SR15.02 and SR97 respectively. 

Saudi Cable Co. and Saudi Ground Services Co. also performed well.

The worst performer was Amlak International Finance Co., whose share price dropped by 5.03 percent to SR11.34. 

Batic Investments and Logistics Co. as well as Al-Jouf Agricultural Development Co., share prices dropped by 4.94 percent and 4.37 percent to stand at SR3.27 and SR63.50, respectively. 

On the announcements front, Saudi IT company Rasan has set the final offering price for its upcoming initial public offering on the Kingdom’s stock market at the upper limit of SR37 per share. 

This follows the successful completion of the book-building process for institutional investors, which saw the offering oversubscribed approximately 129.1 times the total offer shares. 

Institutions subscribed to the entire offering, with 22.74 million ordinary shares allocated to them, representing 100 percent of the total holdings offered in the first phase. 

This information comes from a statement issued by Saudi Fransi Capital, the IPO manager, as well as the financial advisors and book-runners for the institutional tranche, Saudi Fransi Capital and Morgan Stanley Saudi Arabia. 

The statement on Tadawul added that following the successful completion of the book-building process, up to 2.274 million ordinary shares, representing 10 percent of the total holdings offered, will be allocated to individual investors in the second phase.

Saudi aviation sector surges with over $20bn in deals at Riyadh forum

Saudi aviation sector surges with over $20bn in deals at Riyadh forum
Updated 32 min 15 sec ago

Saudi aviation sector surges with over $20bn in deals at Riyadh forum

Saudi aviation sector surges with over $20bn in deals at Riyadh forum

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s aviation sector received a major boost with over 100 agreements, exceeding SR75 billion ($20 billion), signed during the first two days of the Future Aviation Forum. 

The Riyadh event saw the signing of 102 memorandums of understanding and deals, ranging from aviation services to aircraft procurement, cargo and logistics services, and advanced air mobility.  

Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, president of the General Authority of Civil Aviation, said that the outcomes of the forum have exceeded all expectations. 

“Over the first and second days, agreements, deals, and partnerships were established that will work toward enhancing global aviation connectivity. This underscores the international confidence in the Saudi civil aviation system and its capability to take on a leading role in this pivotal sector,” said Al-Duailej. 

The most significant agreement was signed between the Saudia Group and Airbus for an order to buy an additional 105 A320neo family planes, marking the largest aircraft deal with the European firm in the Kingdom’s history. 

The $19 billion deal, which includes A320neo and A321neo models, will see the aircraft distributed between Saudia and flyadeal, the group’s low-cost carrier. 

Meanwhile, Saudi oil giant Aramco signed a deal with Bombardier for the purchase of two new super mid-sized Challenger 3500 business jet aircraft, with delivery scheduled for 2025 and 2026. 

Additionally, BAE Systems inked a deal with the Saudi Academy of Civil Aviation to exchange experience in aviation science training. 

Other agreements included a five-year contract signed between Saudia Cargo and Saudia Technic to lease up to 8,474 sq. m. within the Saudia Technic premises located in King Abdulaziz International Airport, MRO Village. 

The deals also involved NEOM agreeing with Saudia Technic to engage in future discussions and collaboration in the field of aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul of heavy-lift Uncrewed Air System, or UAS, and passenger electric vertical take-off and landing, known as eVTOL, aircraft. 

Matarat Holding Co. and the Local Content and Government Procurement Authority agreed to foster collaboration to enhance opportunities and potential for the development and advancement of local content. 

Additionally, Dammam Airport Co. signed a consulting service contract with Hill International to manage DACO projects. It also sealed a cooperation agreement with the Bahrain Airport Co. Furthermore, it inked a training MoU with the Gulf Aviation Academy. 

The agreements also included Saudi Arabia signing air service deals with Mozambique, Cambodia, Eswatini, and Brunei, as well as Romania, Malawi, and Belize. Additionally, the Kingdom signed similar deals with Kiribati, Grenada, Lithuania, and Sao Tome and Príncipe, as well as Salvador and Albania. 

The forum witnessed a strong turnout, with over 30 ministers, 77 leaders of civil aviation authorities, CEOs from airlines worldwide, and 7,000 industry experts and leaders from over 120 countries. 

During the forum, GACA unveiled the inaugural edition of the “State of Aviation” report, showcasing the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s economy, totaling $53 billion, and its role in generating 958,000 jobs across different regions. 

GACA also hosted the first exhibition aimed at facilitating investment in the Saudi aviation sector, with a focus on the advanced air mobility pavilion being among the exhibition’s prominent pavilions. 

Qatar issues green bonds worth $2.5bn

Qatar issues green bonds worth $2.5bn
Updated 22 May 2024

Qatar issues green bonds worth $2.5bn

Qatar issues green bonds worth $2.5bn

RIYADH: Qatar has issued green bonds in two tranches totaling $2.5 billion, according to official data. 

Citing a release from the International Financing Review, Reuters reported that the operation is the Gulf state’s first external debt issuance in four years. 

According to the IFR report, Qatar sold five-year offerings worth $1 billion with a yield of 30 basis points above US treasury bonds, and ten-year debt securities worth $1.5 billion with a yield of 40 basis points.

This comes several months after global professional services network KPMG encouraged the Gulf country to issue green bonds and adopt sustainable financing mechanisms, saying that this step would help the country achieve its sustainability goals.  

The report also showed that Qatar reduced the initial indicative rate to 70 basis points over US treasury bonds for five-year debt securities and 80 basis points over US treasury bonds for 10-year offerings after receiving total orders exceeding $10.9 billion.

On another note, new data revealed that in the first quarter of 2024, Qatar recorded a merchandise trade balance surplus of 53.2 billion Qatari riyals ($14.6 billion), down from 68.4 billion riyals in the same quarter last year. 

Issued by the country’s National Statistics Center, the analysis also disclosed that the value of Qatar’s total exports, including foreign sales of domestic goods and re-exports, amounted to 87.6 billion riyals, reflecting an 8.6 percent drop compared to the corresponding period in 2023. 

On the other hand, during the same period, the value of Qatar’s imports stood at 34.4 billion riyals, reflecting a 25.4 percent surge in comparison to the first quarter of 2023. 

When asked about the issuance of external debt in January, Qatar’s Finance Minister Ali Al-Kuwari, said: “We’re ready to do it very soon.” 

Speaking to Bloomberg Television on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos at the time, the official highlighted that Qatar is “not hungry for money,” but it will pursue the issuance “mainly to send a strong statement” in combating climate change.  

One of the world’s biggest producers of liquefied natural gas, Qatar has not issued eurobonds since early 2020, when it sold $10 billion of debt.   

In 2022, the Gulf state’s central bank announced plans to implement strategic actions, including facilitating green bond issuance and advancing cooperation with the Qatar Development Bank, to promote diversification efforts. The aim is to fund projects to reduce carbon and other planet-warming emissions.

Saudi Arabia, China explore private sector investment opportunities during Beijing meeting

Saudi Arabia, China explore private sector investment opportunities during Beijing meeting
Updated 22 May 2024

Saudi Arabia, China explore private sector investment opportunities during Beijing meeting

Saudi Arabia, China explore private sector investment opportunities during Beijing meeting

 RIYADH: Chinese participation in Saudi Arabia’s private-sector projects is set to increase as the Kingdom’s Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan held meetings with top officials in Beijing. 

Al-Jadaan, who is also the chairman of the National Center for Privatization & PPP, led a roundtable meeting with senior officials of Chinese companies in cooperation with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to discuss partnership opportunities. 

In his opening address, the finance minister emphasized the depth of the bilateral relationship between the two nations, highlighting the trust and ongoing collaboration across diverse sectors, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

He revealed that the NCP has so far awarded over 60 privatization and partnership contracts in eight key sectors since its establishment, totaling a capital investment exceeding $10 billion.  

Al-Jadaan also highlighted the NCP’s proactive measures in fortifying the ecosystem, including the adoption of privatization laws and complementary statutory frameworks aimed at expediting the implementation of PPP projects. 

During the meeting, participants emphasized the potential for PPP - public private partnership – ventures within the infrastructure sector, outlining pathways for companies and investors to engage in these initiatives across diverse domains. Special focus was placed on construction, transportation, water management, and airport development. 

At the close of the meeting, the minister commended the ICBC’s role in bolstering the NCP’s efforts to showcase privatization and partnership opportunities to Chinese investors and firms. 

NCP plays a key role in facilitating the privatization program, a key priority outlined in the realization of the Saudi Vision 2030, according to its website. 

The center assists in drafting regulations, establishing frameworks, and preparing government assets and services for privatization. Additionally, it is developing the privatization pipeline, proposing sectors and government assets and services for potential improvement through private sector involvement.  

In 2023, the NCP unveiled its privatization and PPP pipeline, featuring 200 approved projects spanning 17 sectors. This initiative was in alignment with the objectives of Vision 2030, aiming to elevate the private sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product from 40 percent to 65 percent by 2030.  

As of the same year, the pipeline encompassed over $50 billion in investments, with an additional 300 projects under evaluation, signifying promising growth prospects. 

Egyptian merchandise exports reach $13bn in first 4 months of 2024 

Egyptian merchandise exports reach $13bn in first 4 months of 2024 
Updated 22 May 2024

Egyptian merchandise exports reach $13bn in first 4 months of 2024 

Egyptian merchandise exports reach $13bn in first 4 months of 2024 

RIYADH: Egyptian merchandise exports reached $12.91 billion during the first four months of 2024, reflecting an annual 10 percent increase.

The country’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Ahmed Samir, highlighted that this continuous rise in merchandise exports has persisted for the fourth consecutive month, according to an official announcement.  

The ministry aims to further increase exports from all production sectors to various global markets in the upcoming phase.  

This strategy involves a concerted effort by the authority, its affiliated bodies, the business community, and Egyptian exporters to enhance the quality and competitiveness of Egyptian products both locally and globally. This will contribute to the state’s target of achieving $100 billion in annual merchandise exports. 

Saudi Arabia emerged as the largest market for Egyptian merchandise exports during the first four months of 2024, with a value of $1.1 billion compared to $993.6 million during the same period in 2023.  

Turkiye followed with $1.08 billion compared to $900.5 million, Italy with $793.1 million to $785.5 million, and the UAE with $735 million to $460 million. The US stood at $716.2 million compared to $587.1 million. 

The main sectors forming the structure of Egyptian merchandise exports during this period included building materials worth $2.88 billion, food industries worth $2.10 billion and chemical products and fertilizers worth $1.98 billion, as well as agricultural products worth $1.77 billion, engineering and electronic goods worth $1.70 billion, and ready-made garments worth $855 million. 

Key export items that increased from January to April 2024 included fresh and dried citrus worth $767 million, gold worth $650 million, and nitrogen fertilizers worth $588.5 million.

Earlier in May, the International Monetary Fund projected that Egypt’s foreign cash inflows would come from five sources, including commodity exports, tourism and Suez Canal revenues, as well as private transfers and net foreign direct investment.  

The fiscal year 2023-2024 total will be around $107.3 billion, compared to about $93.6 billion in 2022-2023.  

Despite expectations of an increase in foreign cash revenue from these sources in 2024, the IMF anticipates inflows to decrease again in the next fiscal year, dropping below the previous year’s level to approximately $91.2 billion.