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KSA as a neutral hub for space activity

SpaceTech is one of the first sectors that comes to mind when we think of advanced technology and the trajectory of human progress. Saudi Arabia realised its potential in this area in a very timely fashion and found something to offer the world, constantly contributing to the development of space and related technologies. The Saudi Space Commission (SSC), set up by royal decree in late 2018 to stimulate space-related research and industrial activities, has finalised a plan for the government, expected to be revealed later this year, under which the sector’s budget would receive an initial boost of SAR 2 billion. The program will develop in a wide variety of directions, starting from launching its own satellites and creating new technologies in geospatial intelligence, and finishing with the creation of new research and development organisations that will serve as one of the main engines of Space progress for Saudi Arabia.

Considering the complicated global geopolitical situation, we are witnessing a redistribution of the intercontinental order. In this context, Saudi Arabia stands a good chance of becoming a neutral hub for global space activity, bringing together the West and the East. From a medium-term perspective, Arab countries will engage in a huge fight over specialists from Russia and the other 11 CIS countries who are fleeing the consequences of the war in Ukraine. By winning the top CIS talent in the Space industry, Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf region will gain a competitive advantage globally.

Achievements and future potential 

Since the year 2000, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been actively engaged in the Satellite industry, launching more than 10 satellites into orbit. Apart from that, Saudi Arabia is also one of the Gulf countries with the greatest involvement in the industry. To date, there have been three astronauts of Arab origin, one of which came from Saudi Arabia. Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia flew in the US Space Shuttle in 1985.

According to Prince Sultan bin Salman in the first meeting of the “Space Economy Leaders 20” within the program of international conferences held in parallel to the Kingdom’s presidency of the G20 last year, the volume of the space economy in the world reached about $400 billion in 2019, of which the G20 countries accounted for 92%. 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. Saudi Arabia is interested in developing low-cost satellite launch and manufacturing systems, which are conducive to the creation of a high-tech industrial and research sector that will contribute to the development of their Vision 2030 Plan. 

In general, Saudi Arabia is well-positioned to benefit from decreasing rocket launch costs, technological advancements, and increased public interest in space exploration. In the future, it may become the leading country in the SpaceTech industry, leading other Gulf countries to dominate both the regional and the global SpaceTech industry. 

International space cooperation 

Aware of its enormous current economic potential but also of its shortcomings, Prince Sultan encourages the formation of a varied network of partnerships at the international level, both with space agencies, private companies, universities and research centres in other countries. The Kingdom’s state-funded space programme has struck deals with the European Space Agency, the UK, France, and Hungary to enhance cooperation. Deeper cooperation between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the SSC would prove beneficial as the two have overlapping interests in numerous areas, including the following:

  1. Exchanging practices on space regulation. The EU has adopted an extensive Space Regulation system that touches upon secure space-related data and services among other issues
  2. Cooperating on safety and security. The EU and Saudi Arabia share common goals for the peaceful exploration of outer space
  3. Advance educational exchanges and partnerships. Similar to Saudi Arabia, the ESA focuses on educating younger generations in STEM subjects 

Deepening ties with China 

Under the strategic guidance of the heads of state of the two countries, China and Saudi Arabia have been deepening their political ties and expanding cooperation. We predict further mutually beneficial cooperation between the Middle East and South-East Asia. By pooling labour and financial capital, the two countries represent strong competition to the Western world through the development of cutting-edge technologies that will help humanity explore space.

Cooperation with other GCC countries

Within the framework of the aforementioned trends, which we will be able to observe in the near future, the idea of a Joint GCC Space Agency is becoming more and more realistic. The combined potential and synergies of the GCC countries is enormous and will increase as they develop further. 

We live in a time of great global change. A pandemic, war, inflation, and other fundamental issues have accelerated many of the processes that shape economic and social relationships. However, these challenges can be seen as opportunities for growth–even the most adverse changes can lead to new developmental milestones. I am confident that Saudi Arabia will take advantage of these opportunities and achieve a powerful position in the field of SpaceTech.

Originally published on Gulf Industry today


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