A Joint GCC Space Agency would enable R&D consolidation, cost sharing, independence from the global space community, and creation of a SpaceTech fund and accelerator
Outer space will eventually be governed by the same geopolitical policies that exist here on Earth. Just as countries are divided by borders delineating their geographies, political interests and spheres of influence, outer space will inevitably be segmented based on which explorer claims ownership of certain parts of it first.
Currently, celestial bodies are not subject to claims of sovereignty by nations. However, there are no clear laws regulating mining in space or ownership by companies and individuals. So what scenarios await if we ever become a space-faring civilization? Perhaps this: if you arrived first, that space mass belongs to you and you are entitled to have jurisdiction over it. Until a more powerful entity takes over.
With the increasing commercialization of space, sovereignty and jurisdiction in space law may change by the end of this decade. The spread of satellites currently orbiting Earth is a reflection of the outer space segmentation phenomenon.
Given the growing tensions between the East and the West, the GCC is well positioned to serve as a neutral hub for the space industry, especially within the commercial satellite market. By joining efforts, GCC nations can expand their share of voice in this sector to perhaps be on par with the EU in the near future.
There are many factors driving the commercializing of the space sector, including the need for cutting the cost of cargo and tech delivery to orbit, especially components through which satellites are made and maintained. Another example is space medicine. According to our recently launched Longevity Journal, space medicine is required as a core competence for space exploration, development, and settlement.
In addition to investment growth from government institutions, private investors have been positively influencing the development of the commercial satellite market. GCC countries possess adequate resources, influence and credibility to rally support of corporates and investors, turning the commercial satellite sector into one of the most lucrative sectors.
The UAE has recently been selected to lead a UN committee working to promote peaceful use of outer space. Omran Sharaf, the Emirati engineer who led the successful Mars mission, serves as the committee’s director for 2022-2023. This is a great example of a global collaborative effort in the space business. A more GCC-focused form of collaboration can enable the Gulf nations to make greater progress and achieve a leadership position in the global space race.
For that to happen, major ongoing efforts by key GCC countries should come together under one roof. To some extent, GCC nations already cooperate on various space initiatives, but remain largely individualistic in their approach.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand out as the most advanced nations in the regional space race based on their satellite launches, geospatial intelligence, and SpaceTech R&D. The two countries allocate large budgets and greater resources to space projects than any of their Gulf counterparts.
A GCC-wide effort
A Joint GCC Space Agencycould benefit all GCC countries, enabling R&D consolidation, cost sharing, independence from the global space community, and creation of a SpaceTech fund and accelerator.
Given the density of orders from government agencies and the heavy use of satellite solutions within the regional defence sector, a joint agency can create mass solutions catering to each country’s needs. This will also allow the GCC to secure a seat at the global space table and be involved in high-level decisions, securing a significant market share in the commercial satellite sector.
Commercial satellites serve sustainability
The rising demand for commercial satellite imagery globally is partly driven by a growing concern about climate change, environmental degradation and disaster monitoring.
Commercial satellite imagery involves capturing visuals of Earth, known as earth observation, and using these visuals for a variety of commercial reasons and sustainability purposes such as mapping, disaster management, energy and natural resource management, urban planning and development, and in some cases, security and surveillance.
Leveraging commercial satellites for R&D
The findings that commercial satellites provide can also support a wide range of sectors. Researchers, scientists, and businesses use this information to create life-changing products and services. Many of our daily essentials today, including global positioning systems (GPS), remote sensing, high-resolution cameras and light detection, rely on commercial satellites.
GCC countries could greatly benefit from the practical applications of satellite imagery technologies to improve the environment, gain access to predictive analytics and improve data security.
By the end of this decade, the commercial satellite market is expected to grow tremendously due to the rapid increase in the use of satellite data in the development of smart cities and electric vehicles, as well as data applications in the military and defence sectors. Given a high level of collaboration among the region’s nations, the GCC can be a primary beneficiary.