Walking with the Stars

As Sultan Al Neyadi becomes only the second Emirati to reach space, we take a look at the U.A.E.’s ground-breaking space ambitions for 2023 and beyond.

Sultan Al Neyadi image

Dr. Sultan Al Neyadi aboard the International Space Station. Image courtesy Khaleej Times.

2nd March, 2023, will live long in the U.A.E.’s collective history — the sunny Thursday marked the successful liftoff of Sultan Al Neyadi to the International Space Station. Travelling aboard a SpaceX rocket with NASA astronauts Stephen Bowing and Woody Hoburg, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, he becomes only the second Emirati to reach space after Hazza Al Mansouri in 2019. Dr. Neyadi will spend six months on the station participating in over 200 experiments, and could even become the first Arab to conduct a spacewalk.

The mission makes the U.A.E. only the 11th country in history with an astronaut to have conducted a long-term mission in space. As the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre states, “The U.A.E. Astronaut Programme…will pave the way for future U.A.E. missions and further push the capabilities for journey beyond Earth.”

Hope Probe image

The Hope Probe, currently in orbit around Mars. Courtesy the BBC.

And indeed, the country is keeping with this spirit in 2023. Already, the much-celebrated Hope Probe, which was launched in 2020 and started orbiting Mars the following year, is sending unprecedented images and data. Its success is pushing the U.A.E. towards realising its Mars 2117 project, which aims to establish the first habitable settlement on the planet by that year.

Milestones closer to our time are also expected. The Moon-bound Rashid Rover, successfully launched in December 2022 aboard a Japanese lunar lander, has already travelled 1.6 million kilometres. Expected to land by 25th April, it is scheduled to study the Moon for one lunar day - 14.75 Earth days — while performing a range of experiments.

Rashid Rover image

The Rashid Rover, scheduled to land on the Moon by 25th April, 2023. Courtesy The National.

Later, the U.A.E. also aims to launch MBZ-Sat, the Middle East’s largest and most powerful satellite, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Three times more efficient than its predecessor, KhalifaSat (launched in 2018 and the first wholly Emirati satellite), the 700kg MBZ-Sat will take high-resolution images of the Earth.

The U.A.E. has already become a multicultural hub for business, luxury and tourism; it has now set its sights on space. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the U.A.E. and Ruler of Dubai, opined: “Our goal is to share knowledge, develop our capabilities, and add a scientific footprint in human history…the aspirations of Emirati people are boundless and nothing can hold them back. The best is still to come.”