Morocco launched its first reconnaissance satellite (the Mohammed 6-A) on November 7, 2017. The satellite was launched into low Earth orbit on an Arianespace Vega rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. It is piloted from an operating center near the capital of Rabat.
The Mohammed 6-A was developed by a consortium formed by Thales Alenia Space, which acted as the prime system contractor, and Airbus Defense and Space, which served as co-prime. Tthe satellite, designed as a dual civil/military system, delivers very-high-resolution optical data products of Morocco's borders and coastline and monitoring desertification in the region.
Morocco launched the country’s first microsatellite on December 10, 2001. The country's Maroc-Tubsat satellite was manufactured by the Technical University of Berlin and launched atop a Ukrainian Zenit-2 rocket from Baikonur in 2001.
Morocco is expected to launch Mohammed 6-B, the second in a pair of Earth-observation satellites, in 2018.
The Royal Centre for Remote Sensing (CRTS)
Morocco's space program is coordinated by the Royal Center for Remote Sensing (CRTS) – the national institution responsible for the promotion, use, and development of remote sensing applications in the country. It coordinates and carries out the national program of remote sensing in collaboration with ministerial departments, private operators, and universities. The CRTS uses operational systems to collect, produce, and analyze data from Earth observation satellites and other sources. It also runs the national archiving facilities.
The CRTS develops applications and methods in space technologies and related disciplines (remote sensing, GIS, positioning, telecommunications). It also provides training and education opportunities in space technologies and maintains partnerships for research actions and programs with universities and research institutions.
One of the missions of the CRTS is to encourage the use of satellite remote sensing through the training of professionals and decision makers from different disciplines and at various levels.
A variety of information actions at various levels and with various orientations and forms is undertaken by the CRTS to sensitize scientists, decision-makers, administrators and youth to the social and economic benefits of space science and technology.
Morocco is the third African country with a reconnaissance satellite after Egypt and South Africa. Morocco's first spy satellite fuels regional tension and regional space race with neighboring Algeria and Spain.
The satellite system allows Morocco to obtain detailed information on military installations and troop movements in Spain and Algeria, as well as spy on the Western Sahara separatist group Polisario Front, with which Morocco maintains a precarious ceasefire.
Despite the friendly ties between Morocco and Spain, the two countries have lingering issues concerning the status of the occupied Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla as well as small islands and rocks in the Mediterranean. Morocco's acquisition could narrow Madrid's military edge in a future conflict despite the two countries being on friendly terms today.
There is a longtime regional power race as Algeria and Morocco present competing ideologies and interests. Over the past decades, the relations between the countries have been strained, with border-crossings between the two countries closed. Morocco has constructed a 100km barrier on its eastern border with Algeria, and Algiers has been reportedly building a high-tech wall as well.
Western Sahara is still the central issue in the relations between the two countries, with Morocco blaming Algeria for the existence of the Polisario Front. However, Algeria argues that it supports the armed movement in accordance with its principles to stand for "the oppressed and just cases worldwide."
Consequently, as the status of Western Sahara remains unresolved, both adversaries seek the advantage of an upper hand in space. Its importance mainly lies in military monitoring. By detecting military movements, a response could be more effective.