Bahrain takes first step into orbit, joining Gulf space race

Bahrain said it sent a satellite into space on December 21, making its first step off the planet and adding to a series of initiatives by Gulf countries to expand their space activities.

The Light-1 satellite made a SpaceX flight using a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It reached the International Space Station later today and is expected to be placed in orbit 400 km above Earth during the first quarter of 2022.

Bahrain is the fifth of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to send a satellite into space. Some, however, have greater ambitions – notably the United Arab Emirates which sent a probe to Mars earlier this year – while concerns remain about the potential military dimension of Iran’s space program.

Bahrain’s nanosatellite has a more peaceful purpose. It will monitor and study terrestrial gamma ray flashes from thunderstorms and clouds, according to Mohammed Ibrahim Al-Aseeri, director general of the country’s National Space Science Agency (NSSA), which was established in 2014. It will send out reports. data to ground stations. in Abu Dhabi, Lithuania and Denmark; the satellite was provided by Nano Avionics, based in Lithuania.

Bahrain has relied heavily on the expertise of the United Arab Emirates to get this far, with the satellite launch being carried out in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, Khalifa University of Science, Technology and research and New York University in Abu Dhabi. United Arab Emirates spear its first government-owned satellite, DubaiSat-1, orbiting in 2009 and launched its first nanosatellite, the Nayif-1, in 2017.

Bahrain, however, has broader ambitions. Al-Aseeri said he aimed to become a “leading country” in the space sector. In October 2020, the country’s ruler, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, said in a word to mark the opening of parliament as “our national ambition to excel in many advanced sciences, such as space science, with its scientific and environmental benefits”.

Bahrain, however, lacks the financial resources of some of its neighbors, which concretely limits what it could achieve.

To the Moon and Mars

The regional space race is led by the United Arab Emirates, whose Hope spacecraft began orbiting Mars in February. It is due to send the Rashid rover to the moon in 2022 and has the longer-term ambition to send a manned mission to the red power plant within 100 years.

UAE activities are led by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, which also manages the UAE Astronaut Program. The country sent its first astronaut to space in September 2019, Hazzaa al-Mansoori having spent eight days on the International Space Station.

Other Gulf countries have also been involved in space, albeit less extensively than the United Arab Emirates.

The pioneer of the region was Saudi Arabia. In February 1985, the Riyadh-based Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat) launched its first satellite. In June of the same year, Prince Sultan bin Salman al-Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, became the first Arab in space as a member of the space shuttle crew. Discovery.

Prince Sultan then headed the Saudi Space Commission, although he was removed from his post in May 2021 on the assumption that a travel ban perhaps it was imposed on him.

In 2017, the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund signed a memorandum of understanding to invest $ 1 billion in the Virgin Galactic.

space flight company. However, the agreement took off the following year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018.

The United Arab Emirates are, however, co-owners of Virgin Galactic. Abu Dhabi government-owned Mubadala Investment Company is the second largest shareholder, with a 4.3% stake in the company. Mubadala also owns 60% of Al-Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat), which is listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) in July this year.

Growing ambitions

Other Gulf countries have so far only been involved in launching satellites, but some also have broader ambitions.

Qatar launched its first satellite, Es’hailSat 1, in 2013. The Qatar Aeronautics and Space Agency (QASA) has announced plans to send young Qataris into space.

In Kuwait, the nascent space industry has the distinction of being led by the private sector, with officials showing no desire to get involved; for now, the country does not have a national space agency, despite some discussions on the creation of one. In July, local company Orbital Space placed the country’s first satellite, the QMR-KWT nanosatellite in orbit. Another company, Kuwait Space Rocket, is studying rocket design and manufacture in the country, with a goal of launching in 2023.

Oman also does not have a national space agency, but its Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology hope to launch its first satellite in space by 2024. “We need to address the role of the private sector in this and create a company to launch the first satellite,” Minister Said bin Hamoud al-Mawali said in November.

None of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council has yet developed its own launch capability. This contrasts with Iran, which in 2009 joined the ranks of countries capable of orbital launch. It’s a worry to neighboring states, who are concerned about its potential use in Iran’s ballistic missile activities. Iran’s space program has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, with rocket failures and mysterious explosions at launch sites, but it continues to prepare for more launches.

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