Looking Back at 2018 for UAE SCIENCE

20 January 2019

Lab Chat

2018 has proven to be a whirlwind year for UAE science, especially in the realm of space exploration. Most notable of all was the announcement of the first two Arab astronauts to board the International Space Station (ISS), scheduled to take place at some point in 2019.

Other exciting developments include the launch of two Emirati satellites into the atmosphere, as well as progress on the Al Amal (Hope) mission, which aims to send a probe to the surface of Mars in the coming years. Also in 2018, UAE authorities unveiled plans for the ambitious Mars Science City, which will create a simulated Martian metropolis on the outskirts of Dubai.

Arabs in space

In September, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashad al Maktoum announced the names of the first two Arab astronauts who will enter the ISS. Sultan al Naidi and Hazza al Mansouri were revealed to be the two lucky finalists sent to the Russian space agency Roscosmos from a field of 4,000 applicants.

One of the pair had been earmarked to make up part of the three-man crew of the Soyuz mission scheduled to launch on April 5th, 2019, with the other acting as backup. However, an accident involving boosters from a Soyuz rocket in October cast doubt on the proposed launch. Thankfully no one was hurt, but all Soyuz missions were suspended pending further investigation.

In December, the next Soyuz mission to the ISS took place without incident, reinstating faith in the Russian operation. While the first Emirati is still due to board the ISS sometime in 2019, it will now undoubtedly be later than initially planned because of the delays.

Two new satellites

The UAE has already expended significant resources in investigating the use of satellites in communication projects, having spent over AED20 billion ($5.44 billion USD) by April 2015. To date, four satellites had been launched, with the first sent into orbit in 2009 and the most recent in 2012.

A fifth Emirati satellite was launched at the beginning of the year, when Al Yah 3 was fired into space by the satellite broadcasting company YahSat. Despite some initial problems with finding its place in geostationary orbit, it is now successfully transmitting internet signals to remote locations in South America and Africa.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) broke more new ground later in the year when it completed work on KhalifaSat. Launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, the satellite was the first one to be 100% designed and manufactured in the UAE.

Missions to Mars

While the dream of humans visiting Mars might still be some way off, the UAE also made great strides in launching its first unmanned probe to visit the planet. Indeed, the Hope mission represents the first from any Arab or Muslim-majority country to the Red Planet and is scheduled to take place sometime in 2020 if all goes to plan.

Back on Earth, the MBRSC officials also announced the construction of Mars Science Centre in the near future. The complex will span 1.9 million square feet and cost an estimated AED500 million ($136 million USD), encompassing a replica of what a Martian colony might look like.

As well as housing a museum and serving an educational purpose for visitors, the project also has a simulation aspect; a team of astronauts intend to live inside the city for one year to verify whether it will be able to sustain human life on the Red Planet when a manned flight finally does reach it.

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