Commercial, private space flights and missions spearhead space-based economy

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Two Saudi astronauts will be on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket aboard a Dragon spacecraft when the Axiom Mission 2 takes off on May 8 bound for the International Space Station. (NASA)
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Official photos of the Axiom Mission 2 (AX-2) crew (from left): Pilot John P. Shoffner, commander Peggy Wilson, mission specialist Rayyanah Barnawi, and mission specialist Ali Al-Qarni. (Supplied)
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The Dragon spacecraft that will carry the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket. (ESA)
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Space Perspective's Spaceship Neptune capsule, the world's first carbon-neutral space craft. (Supplied)
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Preparing for the mission. (Axiom photo)
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Preparing for the mission. (Axiom photo)
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Updated 08 April 2023

Commercial, private space flights and missions spearhead space-based economy

  • Axiom Space will launch a planned private crew mission to the ISS, with two Saudi astronauts on board
  • Space tourism is increasing in popularity as costs drop and more infrastructure is built

JEDDAH: “Space: The final frontier,” are words many Star Trek fans worldwide know by heart. Though humanity is not yet in the year 2265, it’s an exciting time for the space industry as breakthrough aerospace discoveries are being made, a booming space economy is being established, and mankind is off on its next big adventure: outer space.

Humans have come a long way since the Sputnik satellite’s orbit around the Earth in 1957. Space exploration is reaching new heights today, exploring tourism ventures, private investment, and finding solutions to our Earthly problems through scientific experiments.

Axiom-2 mission patch. (Supplied)

With time and two superpowers’ unprecedented successes and failures, the US-Soviet space race dominated space exploration and planted a seed, or flag, for other nations to follow. After joining forces, the two superpowers built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station, but more recently they have been giving way to new players.

Now, 77 government space agencies with more than 600 astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts have made it beyond Earth’s orbit, with two more Saudi astronauts due to head into space on May 8.

Saudi astronaut and scientist Rayyanah Barnawi and mission specialist Ali Alqarni, graduates of the Kingdom’s inaugural national astronaut program, will join Peggy Whitson and John P. Shoffner on the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket aboard a Dragon spacecraft as part of the Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) to the ISS.

The four astronauts

On Thursday, Axiom Space, a leading provider of human spaceflight services to the ISS and a developer of human-rated space infrastructure, hosted a virtual press conference on the upcoming mission, with leaders from NASA, SpaceX, and the Saudi Space Commission.

“On this mission, the most important thing we can do for the (Saudi) human spaceflight program is microgravity research and STEM outreach. From our side on the Saudi Space Commission, we are investigating 11 groundbreaking microgravity experiments. And we are also capitalizing on this opportunity to have an outreach with three experiments,” Mishaal Ashemimry, microgravity research lead at the Saudi Space Commission, said during the conference.

“The three experiments are meant to engage over 12,000 students across 47 different locations in Saudi Arabia, the goal of which is to have them participate in this mission, as well as enlighten them and plant the seed of curiosity in every child across Saudi Arabia, hopefully becoming future astronauts and future scientists that can enable us to do missions to the Moon and eventually Mars,” she added.

To prepare themselves for the rigors of their 37-hour spaceflight, the crew members who have not undergone the rigors of NASA training train specifically for the upcoming mission.

“The training that NASA astronauts receive starts with basic training, where they learn quite a bit about astronomics and other similar courses,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini told Arab News during the conference.

Signing of the partnership deal between Axiom Space and the Saudi Space Commission to send the first female Saudi astronaut to space. In the picture are Michael T. Suffredini (left), president & CEO of Axiom Space; Abdullah bin Amer Alswaha (center), Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology; and Dr. Saudi Al-Tamimi, governor of the Saudi Communication, Space and Technology Commission and Acting CEO for Saudi Space Commission. (Supplied)

He added that NASA astronauts also train extensively on ISS systems and other systems required on the station.

“Our astronauts trained for these particular missions are trained very specifically for the things they're going to do in orbit and the systems they’ll utilize,” Suffredini said.

“The reason why we brought in a professional astronaut, like Peggy in this case, (is that) they’re the ones that have to help them when they come across things that they’re not comfortable with or not sure about. Instead, we’re able to let the private astronauts train a little differently and focus on their mission, because we have a professional astronaut flying with them.”

ALSO READ: When a Saudi went to space

Sharing that sentiment, Ashemimry added: “Our astronauts train specifically for this mission and then for longer-duration missions. So, depending on the mission itself, and the opportunity, we train the astronauts for whatever they’re planning to do for that mission.

“So, to all of us, they are still astronauts, and they’re going to be doing their job and they’re going to fulfill the duties for this mission.”

The Ax-2 mission will be the first private space mission to include both private-sector astronauts and astronauts representing foreign governments. It is also the first private mission commanded by a woman.

Official photos of the Axiom Mission 2 (AX-2) crew (clockwise, from top left): Peggy Wilson, Ax-2 commander; Rayyanah Barnawi, mission specialist; Ali Al-Qarni, mission specialist; and John P. Shoffner, Ax-2 pilot. (Supplied) 

Once docked, the Axiom Space astronauts will spend 12 days aboard the ISS, carrying out an entire mission consisting of science, outreach and commercial activities.

Over the past few decades, scientists have invented numerous remarkable technologies aboard the ISS, many of which led to technological and scientific discoveries with significant impact on life on Earth.

Barnawi and Alqarni will conduct 14 experiments, including six studies focused on developing future therapeutic applications, four experiments studying immune dysfunction in tumor organoid models that can help to predict and prevent cancer, three on understanding how commercial spaceflight crew members adapt to microgravity, and one exploring cloud seeding in microgravity.

Space flight is now a venerable industry. As government agencies prioritize the moon, others are finding opportunities in commercial space flight. It is estimated that more than 10,000 firms and approximately 5,000 investors are involved in the space industry. Morgan Stanley estimates that the global space industry could generate revenue of more than $1 trillion in 2040, up from the current $350 billion.

Rayyanah Barnawi training to use specialized methods and equipment for preparing food in space. (Supplied)

What is coming next is truly the next frontier. Space tourism, a niche segment of the space economy and industry, has been operating for more than a decade, offering suborbital space flights. Companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic offer travelers a seat at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. Now, other companies are offering cheaper options to participate in similar spectacular experiences that are just as worthy as their more expensive counterparts.

Many experts believe we are experiencing a “space renaissance,” as technological solutions over the past decade have significantly reduced costs, allowing companies to think outside the box and offer cross-sector collaborations.

Lower costs have opened the door to start-ups while encouraging established aerospace companies to explore novel opportunities that once seemed too expensive or complicated.

Ali Alqarni (left) training for the mission. (Supplied)

But why go to space at all? One could argue that a virtual reality headset can offer similar views to those experienced by an astronaut.

“There are a number of reasons and, essentially, the core of our business is that we’re taking people to space to have that quintessential astronaut experience of seeing a planet in that context,” Jane Poynter, founder and co-CEO of space tourism company Space Perspective, told Arab News.

“Now they see the thin blue line of our atmosphere, they see the planet in the context of this incredible black void of space. When put in that context, that makes astronauts deeply connected with our planet, humanity and inhabitants.

“They come back and get involved in various environmental and social causes. That’s one way we’re going to address global challenges; we need to view them in a global context. That’s what space flight does for us.”

Space Perspective announced plans last June to take tourists up to the stratosphere aboard a balloon-borne pressurized capsule called Spaceship Neptune. Poynter told Arab News that the company is “an experience company” committed to providing access to space in mere hours, reaching an altitude of 100,000 feet using a hydrogen balloon.

Space Perspective's Spaceship Neptune capsule, the world's first carbon-neutral space craft. (Supplied)

The need for sustainability in space exploration and the exploitation of space is becoming more evident with the growing desire for the expansion of human activities beyond Earth’s orbit, which is being pursued by the public and private sectors alike.

What was once one of the biggest impediments to progress in space flights was the lack of deployable technologies enabling outposts to be established. Now, Space Perspective is manufacturing the world’s only carbon neutral spaceship dubbed Spaceship Neptune, at their facility located at the NASA Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Right now, we’ve only seen around 650 people go to space,” said Poynter. “In just a couple of years, we’re going to start seeing thousands of people, many of whom never thought they were going to be able to go to space.”

Axiom Mission 2 pilot John P. Shoffner and mission commander Peggy Wilson reviewing their mission plan ahead of take-off. (Axiom photo)

She added that the company plans to expand operations at departure sites and has begun accepting bookings for 2025.

Poynter also noted that many people are curious about the possibility of traveling to space, a place she said many think is “out there and for others to pursue when, in fact, it’s attainable,” though there are challenges to overcome in scaling up operations.

She said: “Having thousands of people going to space is difficult to figure out, if they’re going to the International Space Station or one of the other stations being built.

“There are lots of business plans that are relying on at least hundreds of people, and we’re taking this from the mission to space for the few to the journey to space for the many.”


Chills and thrills as City Walk horror house opens its doors in Jeddah

Updated 6 sec ago

Chills and thrills as City Walk horror house opens its doors in Jeddah

JEDDAH: A new attraction at City Walk, part of this year’s Jeddah Season, promises to fascinate and terrify in equal measure.

The spine-chilling Horror House of Raya and Skena takes visitors back in time to a rural Egyptian village steeped in evil, horror, and mystery.

Raya and Skena, Egypt’s most infamous serial killers, left a grisly legacy that has fascinated and horrified for over a century.

In late 1919 and throughout 1920, the sisters led a fearsome gang in Alexandria, targeting mainly women, and committing a string of murders and robberies. Their reign of terror sparked widespread panic and left an indelible mark on Egyptian crime history.

The siblings were arrested along with their husbands and other gang members after police found a number of corpses buried beneath one of their houses. They were charged with the murder of 17 people and later sentenced to death.

The horror house experience begins as visitors step into the recreated house of Raya and Skena. As they leave the courtyard, they find themselves transported back in time to a foreboding rural Egyptian village. The atmosphere is thick with a sense of impending doom, as evil forces seem to lurk in every shadowy corner.

Visitors navigate this frightening setting, where they are besieged by wicked presences, leading to a confrontation fraught with danger and confusion. The attention to detail and historical accuracy, combined with modern horror elements, give this experience a magical touch of horror and excitement.

“This was the most thrilling experience of my life,” said Syeda Sarah, a Jeddah resident. “It felt like stepping into a real-life horror story. The atmosphere, the details — everything was spot on.

“They give you a lamp at the door, which you carry inside as you walk through the dark rooms, encountering horrifying characters in Egyptian attire. The sight of Skena sitting in the corner, screaming, was terrifying. The realism in recreating Egypt is incredible.”

Another resident, Jumana, who visited the attraction with a group of friends, shared a similar sentiment.

“The Horror House of Raya and Skena is truly a unique concept," she said.

“My friends and I were on edge the entire time, and the historical aspect made it even more fascinating. I am from Egypt, and often heard this story from our relatives when we visited.

“This horror house brought those stories to life. There were many unexpected elements, like a fake head falling from the ceiling or a dead body wrapped in a white cloth. The banging of utensils by characters in Egyptian attire was incredibly creepy. It’s a must-visit for anyone coming to City Walk, especially to experience the Cairo zone and this horror house.”

The City Walk attraction has become a must-see for thrill-seekers, offering a blend of fear, fascination, and a sense of stepping into a dark chapter of Egypt’s past.

Visitors can book tickets at the zone or through the Saudi Events app to avoid queues.

Saudi deputy foreign minister discusses Sudan crisis with UN, EU delegates

Updated 5 min 23 sec ago

Saudi deputy foreign minister discusses Sudan crisis with UN, EU delegates

DJIBOUTI: Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed Al-Khuraiji met with EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, Annette Weber, on the sidelines of the Second Consultative Meeting on Enhancing Coordination of Peace Initiatives and Efforts in Sudan, held in Djibouti.

In separate meetings, he also met with the UN Envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, and US Special Envoy for Sudan, Tom Perriello.

During these meetings, they reviewed the latest developments in Sudan, explored ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation, and discussed topics of mutual interest.

Fishermen of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province gear up for shrimp season

Updated 5 min 51 sec ago

Fishermen of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province gear up for shrimp season

  • For the 2024 season, 710 fishing boats have been authorized, including large and small fishing boats

RIYADH: Fishermen in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province are preparing for this year’s shrimp season, which begins on Aug. 1 and lasts six months.

Shrimp fishing will take place along the Arabian Gulf coasts of the Eastern Province, stretching some 1,000 km from Khafji Governorate in the north to Uqair Governorate in the south.

For the 2024 season, 710 fishing boats have been authorized, including large and small fishing boats.

These are distributed as follows: 30 fishing boats at the Manifa port, 20 fishing boats at the Safaniya port, 330 fishing boats at the Jubail port, 160 fishing boats at the Qatif port and 170 fishing boats at the Darin Island port.

The director of the Eastern Province Branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Fahd bin Ahmed Al-Hamzi, told the Saudi Press Agency that the ministry is providing top-quality services to the Kingdom’s fishermen.

The ministry has reduced the time required to issue shrimp fishing permits and opened online applications, he added.

The region will also see the development of new fishing ports as part of a ministry project, as well as a scheme to supply and install engines and emergency radios for fishing boats.

Saudi Arabia has affirmed its commitment to protecting sustainable fish stocks and the livelihoods of fishermen, and investing in aquaculture projects.

Djibouti PM receives Saudi deputy foreign minister

Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed receives Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2024

Djibouti PM receives Saudi deputy foreign minister

  • During the meeting with Mohamed, Al-Khuraiji reviewed relations between Djibouti and Saudi Arabia
  • Topics of common interest were also discussed

RIYADH: Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed received the Kingdom’s Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the meeting, the officials reviewed relations between the two countries and discussed topics of common interest.

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji meets with Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahmoud Ali Youssef on Thursday. (SPA)Caption

Al-Khuraiji was also received by Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahmoud Ali Youssef on Thursday.

The minister is in the country to attend the second consultative meeting on enhancing the coordination of peace initiatives and efforts in Sudan.

Al-Khuraiji later met with Minister of State at the UAE Foreign Ministry Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al-Nahyan on the sidelines of the meeting. 

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji meets with Minister of State at the UAE Foreign Ministry Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al-Nahyan. (SPA)


Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army

Updated 25 July 2024

Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army

RIYADH: The Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia hosted a reception on Wednesday in Riyadh’s Cultural Palace to mark the 97th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

“We would like to use this opportunity to celebrate not only our history, but also the history of military and security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China,” said Zhu Je, the armed defense attache at the Chinese Embassy.

In an interview with Arab News, Zhu recalled Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman’s June visit to Beijing, where he met his Chinese counterpart, Dong Jun.

Zhu described the meeting between the two ministers as “a milestone in the new era.”

He told Arab News: “This is the first time that he visited China to meet with the Chinese minister of defense and also the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

“The ministers decided to continue to deepen bilateral cooperation in defense and military areas, strengthen strategic communication between the leaderships, and to elevate the relationship to a higher level.”

The defense attache highlighted the importance of the meeting, in which Prince Khalid and his Chinese counterpart reviewed Saudi-Chinese relations and ways to strengthen ties.

The People’s Liberation Army anniversary reception welcomed defense officials and ambassadors based in the Kingdom.

Chinese Ambassador Chang Hua hosted the event alongside Zhu and welcomed guests to the reception.

Zhu delivered the opening remarks and highlighted the “strategic friendly cooperation” between the Kingdom and China’s defense ministries.

“China firmly supports Saudi Arabia to strengthen its strategic capacities for safeguarding its national security, and resolutely opposes any external interference in the Kingdom’s internal affairs,” he said.

China aims to “facilitate the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the unity between Palestinian parties, to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to maintain stability, restore peace and protect civilians in the region and in the world,” he added.

Zhu thanked the Kingdom for its support, saying: “I once again express our sincerest gratitude and respects to the leaders, government, armed forces, security forces and people of Saudi Arabia.”

He also praised the Saudi ministries of defense, interior and National Guard, as well as his embassy colleagues.