Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come

Col. Chris Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 January 2022

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious space program provides foretaste of exciting collaborations to come

  • The Saudi Space Commission was launched in Dec. 2018 under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform agenda
  • The state-funded body has struck cooperation agreements with the European Space Agency, UK, France and Hungary

JEDDAH: More than half a century ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the surface of the moon. Since this historic milestone, governments, scientists and now entrepreneurs have set their sights on more distant and ambitious goals.

From Jeff Bezos’ forays into space tourism with Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s dream of establishing colonies on Mars to NASA’s launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and the UAE’s Hope probe mission to Mars, space, it seems, is once again all the rage.

The Apollo astronauts’ momentous moonwalk of July 20, 1969, marked the culmination of more than a decade of breakneck scientific advance, fueled by the fierce Cold War-era contest between the US and the Soviet Union known as the “space race.”

Decades later, and with the benefits of vastly superior technologies, private sector finance, and a global profusion of scientific and engineering talent, a new space race led by the world’s emerging economies and wealthiest individuals is now underway.
 




Saudi Arabia is well placed to capitalize on falling costs of launching rockets, advances in technology, and a growing public interest in space exploration. (Supplied)

A recent entrant in this new space race is the Saudi Space Commission, or SSC, launched three years ago by royal decree — its mission: To accelerate economic diversification, enhance research and development, and raise private sector participation in the global space industry.

Since its launch in December 2018, the Kingdom’s state-funded space program has struck deals with the European Space Agency, the UK, France, and Hungary to further cooperation.

The agency has also signed agreements with aerospace giant Airbus, joined the International Astronautical Federation, and launched illustrious scholarship programs to allow Saudi students to attend the world’s best universities offering courses in space sciences and aerospace engineering.

Although its space agency is relatively new, the Kingdom has a long history of involvement in satellite technology, much of it emanating from the King Abdul Aziz City of Science and Technology in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia also played a key role in the Arab League’s formation of Arabsat, a satellite communications company, which launched its first satellite in 1985.

“The beauty is that you’re not starting from zero,” Col. Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

“Even NASA, when they were formed in the late 1950s, they weren’t starting from zero. NACA, which was the predecessor to NASA, had been around since the 1920s, when the government recognized that aeronautics was coming.”
 




In Col. Chris Hadfield’s view, the SSC should now set out to clearly define its goals for the future of Saudi space exploration. (SPA)

Hadfield is well known for his hugely popular video segments depicting life aboard the ISS, which famously included a zero-gravity guitar rendition of David Bowie’s "Space Oddity."

A heavily decorated astronaut, engineer and pilot, his many awards include the Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Cross and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He was also named the top test pilot in both the US Air Force and the US Navy, and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.

Hadfield has flown three space missions, building two space stations, performing two spacewalks, crewing the Shuttle and Soyuz, and commanding the ISS.

Now retired, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, an adviser to SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, board chair of the Open Lunar Foundation, and the author of three international bestsellers. His TED talk on fear has been watched 11 million times.

In Hadfield’s view, the SSC should now set out to clearly define its goals for the future of Saudi space exploration.

“The real key is to have a clear purpose for what the space agency is trying to accomplish, aims that are in line with serving the people of Saudi in the short and long term,” he said.

The ISS remains a potent symbol of human fraternity as well as the huge technological and scientific possibilities on offer when societies work toward a common end.

The space station’s history began on July 17, 1975, when Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and American astronaut Deke Slayton shook hands in microgravity, having docked their spacecraft high above the French city of Metz.
 




Col. Chris Hadfield said it is this kind of human fraternity, together with an enduring sense of duty, that will empower further innovations and new milestones in space exploration. (Supplied)

The handshake was the byproduct of a 1972 agreement between the two nations to cooperate on the Apollo-Soyuz Test project. The US built a docking module for the Apollo shuttle that was compatible with the Soviet docking system to allow a flawless rendezvous.

Their meeting became a powerful symbol of unity, which paved the way for the joint Shuttle-Mir program and later the ISS itself.

Building a space agency is no easy feat. As a multidisciplinary domain, the industry demands a wide range of skills and expertise. Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in the sector and already has several achievements to its name.

In February 2019, the Kingdom launched its first domestically developed communications satellite — SGS-1 — from the Guiana Space Center. The launch was the result of a partnership between KACST and US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

In 2020, Saudi Arabia announced plans to invest $2.1 billion in the space program as part of its Vision 2030 reform agenda, the Kingdom’s long-term plan to diversify its economy away from oil and embrace a wide array of next-generation industries.
 




Prince Sultan bin Salman (closest to the camera) is the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space. (Supplied)

“In the time we live in now, space is becoming a fundamental sector of the global economy, touching every aspect of our lives on Earth,” Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space, said at the time.

“Space business and the space economy are expected to grow into the trillions of riyals as we go forward. We believe there are a lot of opportunities that exist in the space sector and we, in Saudi Arabia, intend to tap these opportunities at all levels.”

In order to excel in space, the Kingdom will need an army of technical specialists in areas as diverse as cybersecurity, avionics and robotics, together with experts in propulsion, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“If you look right across the world’s governments, there’s some subset that is working in the areas that are naturally space related, like telecommunications, atmospheric physics, weather forecasting or the military side of threats; there’s always the high ground advantage,” Hadfield told Arab News, highlighting the benefits of building a domestic space industry.

“It’s scientific in just trying to understand the Earth better. If you can go around (Earth) 16 times a day, if you can set a geostationary satellite that is looking at the whole (Arabian) peninsula, that whole part of the world, there is a huge amount of information to be gathered that is really difficult to gather from the surface.

“Then there is the technological development side. If you’re going to challenge yourself to build a satellite or build rocket ships or train people to fly to space or be part of the space station, start setting up a permanent human habitation on the moon, that’s a big technological challenge and that is good for the country from the academic side right through to the manufacturing side.”

But more than the obvious economic, scientific and strategic benefits, Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations.
 




Hadfield believes investment in space technologies also provides societies with a sense of optimism and raises public aspirations. (Supplied)

“Apart from the scientific research and the technical development, it is raising people’s eyes beyond the horizon,” he said.

“Space exploration has a significant role in inspiring people to visualize a different future, to attempt things with their own lives, to train themselves to gain a new set of skills and turn themselves into somebody different in pursuit of being an astronaut that otherwise they might never have done with themselves. That, to me, that’s an important component.”

Saudi Arabia is well placed to capitalize on falling costs of launching rockets, advances in technology, and a growing public interest in space exploration. Its willingness to work with other space agencies is also a foretaste of exciting collaborations to come.

Reflecting on his own career in space, Hadfield said it is this kind of human fraternity, together with an enduring sense of duty, that will empower further innovations and new milestones in space exploration.

“It’s a life of service,” he said. “Service to agency, service to country and service to others.”

 

When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space

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Saudi Arabia tells UN meeting on food security ‘global cooperation is vital’

Updated 19 May 2022

Saudi Arabia tells UN meeting on food security ‘global cooperation is vital’

  • Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji said the KSA’s foreign policy attaches great importance to enhancing security and stability

RIYADH: A Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs official confirmed Wednesday that the Kingdom had taken crucial steps to enhance food security, put forward strategies to promote food growth and face climate change and water scarcity. 

Waleed Al-Khuraiji, Saudi deputy minister of foreign affairs, said these measures contributed to improving food security indicators in the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the Global Food Security Call to Action meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday, Al-Khuraiji said that the food security challenge proves that sustainable recovery depends on international cooperation.

He said despite progress in the development process, achieving the 2030 SDG (social development goals) had become extremely difficult, as global expectations and indicators show a deviation in the path towards achieving the second goal of the program, which includes the eradication of hunger.

“Among the global health challenges are the spread of pandemics, as the spread of the COVID-19 revealed to us the fragility of the international system in combating a virus that is not visible to the naked eye, which led to severe consequences that affected societies and economies,” Al-Khuraiji said, adding  that this affected people’s lives, their livelihood and declining economic indicators.

He said Saudi Arabia led a global response to the pandemic that accompanied the Kingdom’s G20 presidency, as it supported global efforts to confront this pandemic with $500 million, in addition to providing $300 million to help countries’ efforts to address the pandemic.

“The Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 focused within sustainable development efforts on building a sustainable agricultural sector, strengthening sectors that support food systems, developing systems and improving agricultural productivity, and worked to strengthen research and innovation capabilities to ensure sustainable progress in food security,” Al-Khuraiji said.

In this regard, he said Saudi Arabia presented crucial initiatives to the region and the world, and had created a road map for facing environmental challenges. These intuitive include the Saudi Green Initiative the Middle East Green Initiative, and the circular carbon economy initiative.

Al-Khuraiji said the  Kingdom’s foreign policy attached great importance to enhancing security and stability, supporting dialogue and peaceful solutions, and providing conditions that support development and achieve people’s aspirations for a better tomorrow, weather in the Middle East or the world.

He added Saudi Arabia had always reiterated its commitment to helping the disadvantaged and countries hit by natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

“The Kingdom is the largest donor of humanitarian and development aid at the Arab and Islamic levels, and is one of the top three donors at the international level,” he said. 


Saudi-US defense delegations review ties, discuss future cooperation

Updated 19 May 2022

Saudi-US defense delegations review ties, discuss future cooperation

  • Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid says the meeting was organized upon Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s directives

RIYADH: Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of defense, on Wednesday met the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Washington, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The pair reviewed the Saudi-US partnership, and ongoing and future strategic military and defense cooperation between the Kingdom and US.

Prince Khalid expressed Saudi Arabia’s appreciation for the close cooperation between the two countries' defense bodies to achieve the two sides’ common interests and enhance security and peace regionally and internationally.

 

 

He also said that the meeting was organized based on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s directives.

Prince Khalid and US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, then, co-headed the Saudi-US joint strategic planning committee meeting.

The Saudi and US defense delegations join a photo session after their meeting in Washington on May 18, 2022. (SPA)

The meeting discussed regional and international developments, and a number of issues on defending common interests and global security and stability.

The meeting was attended by Gen. Fayyadh bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili, Saudi Chief of General Staff, and other Saudi and US senior officials.


Who’s Who: Majed Al-Sulami, humanitarian and development affairs chief at KSA’s UN mission in Geneva

Updated 19 May 2022

Who’s Who: Majed Al-Sulami, humanitarian and development affairs chief at KSA’s UN mission in Geneva

Majed Al-Sulami is a diplomat at the permanent mission of Saudi Arabia to the UN, where he is head of the humanitarian and development affairs department in Geneva.

His responsibilities are in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration, International Committee of the Red Cross, UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and humanitarian assistance in areas affected by conflicts, armed disputes and natural disasters.

Al-Sulami attained his bachelor’s degree in English literature from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. He also received a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy affairs from the University of Ghana, and another master’s degree in business administration for executives from Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK.

Al-Sulami also served as the chargé d’affaires at the Saudi Embassy in Ghana, and the deputy head and head of the consular section between September 2011 and 2013.

He was also the deputy head of the media section at the Saudi Embassy in London between September 2013 and 2017.

Al-Sulami also served as director of the specialized meetings at the permanent mission of Saudi Arabia to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation between September 2017 and 2020.

His participation included the 47th and 48th sessions of the OIC’s permanent finance committee, the 13th and 14th sessions of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission and the workshop held by the OIC’s commission with the UN.

Al-Sulami was a political committee member for preparatory meetings and foreign ministers’ meetings and the OIC conference held in Makkah in 2019.

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Experts from 29 nations gather in Jeddah for international sports sciences conference

Updated 18 May 2022

Experts from 29 nations gather in Jeddah for international sports sciences conference

  • ‘This conference is a novel idea, especially since Saudi Arabia has been recently bidding to be at the forefront of the developed world and sports,’ said Adnan Al-Humaidan, the university’s president
  • Delegates will discuss a number of topics, including sports governance, women’s sports, digital transformation, and ways in which sport can attract investment and support the economy

JEDDAH: Academics, researchers, specialists and lecturers from 19 countries gathered at the University of Jeddah on May 18 for the start of Sports Sciences: Economy, Health, Lifestyle, which is said to be the first international conference of its kind.

The two-day event, held under the patronage of the minister of education, began with a welcome speech by Adnan Al-Humaidan, the president of the university.

“This conference is a novel idea, especially since Saudi Arabia has been recently bidding to be at the forefront of the developed world and sports,” he said.

He said that the decision of the university to organize the conference reflects the aim of the Kingdom to be an international leader in sports sciences, to help contribute to achieving the goals of the nation’s Vision 2030 development and diversification plan.

Delegates will discuss a number of topics during the conference, including the relationships between sports, health and the quality of life program as part of Vision 2030, and the issue of governance in sport and its role in tackling corruption within sporting organizations.

The event will also explore women’s sports, the use of artificial intelligence and the digital transformation of the sports industry, and the role of sport in generating financial and human investments and supporting the national economy, and the contributions of software and technology to the development of sports.

Princess Reema bint Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US and a member of the International Olympic Committee, delivered a keynote speech during the first session of the opening day, which was devoted to a discussion of the experiences of Saudi, Arab and international women in sport. 

Speaking via video link, she said: “Saudi women are making tremendous strides in the world of sports, starting with individual participation and progressing to official representation in regional and international competitions. And I am proud to see them right now in every sport and holding top positions in the various local sports federations.

“Today, sport emerges as an important component of the socioeconomic development of a country. Therefore women must be part of that development, not only to be athletes but also to seek other top positions in sports.

“As women increasingly participate in sport and occupy more leadership roles within the sporting sector, they influence the meaning of sport and the place of women in it.”

Other speakers during the opening session included Maha Juffali, president of the Saudi Special Olympics Federation, and Lina Al-Maeena, a pioneer of women’s sports in Saudi Arabia who broke new ground 18 years ago when she founded the Jeddah United women’s basketball team.

Other sessions considered the role of the sports media in promoting the adoption of a more healthy lifestyle, and how best to benefit from international and Arab experiences in the field of sports sciences.

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Intense sandstorm envelops parts of Kingdom in gray haze

Updated 17 May 2022

Intense sandstorm envelops parts of Kingdom in gray haze

  • The thick blanket of sand made iconic buildings in Riyadh, such as Faisaliyah Tower, Kingdom Center, and other skyscrapers in the King Abdullah Financial District almost impossible to see
  • Cautioning motorists because of the the heavy sandstorm, the traffic department advised drivers to drive slow and exercise restraint, as well as keep their headlights on

RIYADH: An intense sandstorm engulfed several areas in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, hampering visibility due to the widespread dust, slowing road traffic and forcing authorities to issue a weather warning.

The sandstorm battered Riyadh, enveloping the Saudi capital’s skyline with gray haze. The thick blanket of sand made iconic buildings in Riyadh, such as Faisaliyah Tower, Kingdom Center, and other skyscrapers in the King Abdullah Financial District almost impossible to see from a distance of a few hundred meters.

Electronic signs along Riyadh’s highways warned drivers to reduce their speed because of the lower visibility.

Cautioning motorists because of the the heavy sandstorm, the traffic department advised drivers to drive slow and exercise restraint, as well as keep their headlights on.

The General Directorate of Civil Defense also advised Riyadh residents to avoid going to various outskirt spots in sands to avoid accidents during the blinding sandstorm.

There have been no flight delays or cancellations in Riyadh because of the sandstorm.

Issuing the daily weather forecast for the Kingdom, the National Center of Meteorology on Tuesday said: “The surface dusty winds will be active in the Eastern Region and some parts of Riyadh Region, reducing horizontal visibility, while the dusty wind will continue to occur in some parts of Qassim, Hail, Madinah, Makkah and Najran regions, extending to eastern parts of Baha and Asir regions, reducing horizontal sight.”

The report added that partly cloudy skies will be seen in some parts of Tabuk, the Northern Borders and Jawf regions.

The NCM added that surface wind movement in the Red Sea will be northerly to north-westerly at a speed of 25-45 kilometers per hour on northern and central parts, and westerly to north-westerly on southern parts at a speed of 15-35 kilometers per hour. Surface wind movement in the Arabian Gulf will be westerly to north-westerly at a speed of 25-45 kilometers per hour.

In Riyadh, the dusty weather has made it tough for outdoor workers, and residents have struggled to keep sand out of their homes.

Abdul Qadeer, a Bangladeshi construction worker, told Arab News: “The heavy sandstorm that started late last night and engulfed the city and its outskirts in gray haze this morning has made it really tough for us to continue working outdoors due to widespread dust.”

Though not infrequent for May — the sandstorm is the third to hit the Kingdom this month — Tuesday’s storm created unfavorable conditions, with the maximum temperature in Riyadh recorded at 38 degrees Celsius and the minimum at 24 degrees Celsius. The relative humidity was recorded at 11 percent.

Parts of Saudi Arabia typically experience sandstorms at the end of winter and advent of summer between March and May, with varying intensity.

Besides the Kingdom, Tuesday’s sandstorm has affected other countries in the region, including neighboring Iraq, which recorded its eighth sandstorm since mid-April, a phenomenon fueled by soil degradation, intense droughts and low rainfall linked to climate change.