23 December 2017

Lab Chat

It’s not been long since the UAE launched their plans for the Mars Science City. Now, they’re aiming to become the frontrunners for research into space agriculture. Put simply, that’s the industry of growing food on other planets – with Mars the main target. Read on as we explore the Gulf state’s latest ambitions.

A growing sector for the UAE

The Dubai Airshow is held every year, bringing together aerospace experts, manufacturers, media and trade visitors to showcase the latest innovations across military, commercial and general aviation. And the space sector has an ever-increasing role in the event, which attracts over 1,000 exhibitors. This year’s event even featured Al Worden, former NASA astronaut.

This reflects its growing presence in the UAE more broadly. The state is currently working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with a view to launching the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope spacecraft. The spacecraft is planned for launch in 2020, arriving at Mars in 2021 with an objective to provide information about Mars’ climate and atmosphere.

Space agriculture

More recently, however, the UAE has launched a range of research projects looking into a more specific area of life on Mars – namely, agriculture. Trees and plants are essential in sustaining life and researchers are looking at similarities between the desert and Mars itself.

Specifically, they’re interested in the date palm tree, which survives in the desert without an abundance of water or nutrition from soil. By collaborating internationally, researchers will be able to build upon existing findings about lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries, which have already been found to thrive in space conditions.

The need for new developments

With all these new developments, the UAE has invested over $5 billion into its space sector. And it’s not an unjustified expense. For decades, many countries in the region have relied upon oil. However, oil supplies are not infinite, and countries are increasingly turning to alternative energy sources to limit their contribution to global warming.

This means the end of the oil era is getting closer and closer, so countries previously reliant on the oil industry are having to find new areas to invest in. There are millions employed by the oil industry in the UAE, but numbers have already begun to fall. Ideally, they want to compete with the likes of the United States, who won the 2017 Physics Nobel Prize for their development of a gravitational wave detection technique.

“There are 100 million young people in the Arab region… We want them to play apart in the future and take the region to the next level, explained Omran Sharaf, Mars Mission project manager. “It's about creating a post-oil, knowledge-based, creative-based economy. So it is important we become a well-established scientific centre”

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