Saudi Arabia's king has ordered the creation of a national space agency. On December 27, 2018, King Salman appointed his eldest son, Prince Sultan bin Salman, to head the new agency. Prince Sultan, who became the first Arab and Muslim astronaut to fly in space in 1985, was removed as head of the tourism authority for the new role.
The newly created agency will likely coordinate and produce Saudi space policy and strategy across the civil, commercial, and military sectors in cooperation with other Saudi government ministries and agencies. The Space Agency will likely also be the focal point for all Saudi international space cooperation.
The decree issued by King Salman was part of a major reshuffle of Saudi government portfolios that saw the foreign minister effectively demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs. Many analysts believe that the reshuffle was an attempt to revamp Saudi Arabia’s international standing following the controversy surrounding the circumstances of the death of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Riyadh is the latest Arab country to establish its own space authority, with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria already having their own agencies.
Between 2000 and 2017, the Kingdom successfully launched 13 Saudi satellites in low orbits of the Earth as well as three satellites for telecommunications, remote sensing, and scientific experiments.
On December 7, 2018, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in the Saudi capital Riyadh announced the successful launch of the Saudi Sat 5A and Sat 5B satellites on the Long March 2D space rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center of the People’s Republic of China.
The two satellites will be used to provide government agencies with high-resolution satellite images similar to those in developed countries for use in various fields. The two satellites are managed and operated from an advanced control station located at KACST headquarters.
King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST)
KACST is both the Saudi Arabian national science agency and its national laboratories. The science agency function involves science and technology policy making, data collection, funding of external research, and services such as the patent office. KACST’s main responsibilities include: Propose a national policy for the development of science and technology and develop strategies and plans necessary to implement them; Coordinate with government agencies, scientific institutions and research centers in the Kingdom to enhance research and exchange information and expertise; Conduct applied research and provide advice to the government on science and technology matters; Support scientific research and technology development; Foster national innovation and technology transfer between research institutes and the industry; and Foster international cooperation in science and technology.
KACST has developed a comprehensive national strategy for science and technology and established specialized departments at several universities to offer courses in space and mechanical engineering. These institutions include King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals, King Saud University, King Abdulaziz University and King Abdullah University for Science and Technology. There are plans for these universities to produce research in the field.
The KACST set up the Saudi Center for Remote Sensing, which is the nucleus of its space research and began its cooperation with NASA through the Challenger Space Shuttle to research the Empty Quarter Desert.
The Kingdom also established a research center to study the Moon and planets in our solar system in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Tamyuz Center for Joint Aviation and Space Research at Stanford University.
The Kingdom established the National Program for Satellite Technology and Aviation Technology, the Center for Geographic Information Systems and the Center for Digital Studies.
The National Satellite Technology Center develops, manufactures, tests, launches and operates (from two ground stations) the satellites of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has designed and manufactured 13 satellites by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), demonstrating its expertise in the field. KACST has refined its production processes to produce satellites quickly and at low cost. They can be used to test new systems out in space, including telecommunications, and energy and data storage.
Saudi Arabia considers that international cooperation in the field of space activities is an important means of peaceful exploration of outer space. The Kingdom, through King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), has concluded several agreements in outer space technology with the US, China, Russia, Germany and France and other countries.
The space and aeronautical sector is of strategic importance to Saudi Arabia, and the Kingdom seeks through the space and aeronautical technology program to achieve regional leadership in this vital sector relying on its preeminent position and vital capabilities that will allow the country to obtain its objective.
The Kingdom is a member of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The Kingdom has signed up to the UN’s five treaties and principles on outer space to promote the use of space technologies at the national level in several fields.
The Saudi Arabian Vision 2030 is the roadmap for this effort, and creating a high-technology research and industrial sector – such as space and satellite programs – is an important priority for Riyadh. The launch of the two new satellites comes as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 aiming to localize strategic technologies. The Kingdom seeks through the space and aeronautical technology program to achieve a regional leadership in this vital sector relying on its preeminent position and vital capabilities that will allow the country to obtain its objective.
[Sources: The New Arab, Space Watch, Arab News, Al Arabiya, The International Astronautical Federation]