Saudi Center for Space Futures will support lunar mission and $2tn global space economy, NASA chief tells Asharq TV

Short Url
Updated 16 May 2024

Saudi Center for Space Futures will support lunar mission and $2tn global space economy, NASA chief tells Asharq TV

  • New center will bring space industries together with government programs, says Bill Nelson on Riyadh visit 
  • NASA plans to “go back to the moon” with commercial and international partners, agency chief tells Maya Hojeij

RIYADH: The Center for Space Futures, hosted by the Saudi Space Agency, will bring together space industries to send a mission to the moon and build a $2 trillion global space economy by 2035, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has said.

During a visit to Riyadh this week, the US space agency chief said in a special interview with the Asharq TV channel: “The future of the space center is to bring together space industries, commercial companies, together with the government programs.”

On April 29, the Saudi Space Agency and the World Economic Forum signed an agreement to establish a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution focused on space.

The World Economic Forum and the Saudi Space Agency signed an agreement to establish the Center for Space Futures. (AN photo by Abdulrahman Bin Shalhoubh) 

Set to open in the fall of 2024, the Center for Space Futures will be the first center in the C4IR network. It aims to facilitate public-private discussions on space collaboration and contribute to accelerating space technologies.

Nelson told business anchor Maya Hojeij that, after a hiatus of half a century, NASA plans to “go back to the moon.” However, he added: “This time with not only commercial partners, but also with international partners.”

He highlighted that the Center for Space Futures will “bring together those commercial and government programs in order to build a significant space economy.”

Earlier this year, NASA announced that its Artemis II lunar mission will aim to land the first astronauts near the moon’s South Pole in September 2025.

On May 21, 2023, Saudi astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi (L) and Ali Al-Qarni (R) launched toward the International Space Station together with American astronauts Peggy Whitson (2R) and pilot John Shoffner (2L). (Axiom Space photo/file)

NASA’s administrator added: “We’re talking about a space economy that will be almost $2 trillion dollars by the year 2035 — only a little over a decade away — a significant part of the economic sector of a country.”

Elaborating, he said that the “$2 trillion is worldwide. And that is a lot of startup companies, such as I have seen here in Riyadh today, that are partnering with other companies from around the world that are including incentives by the Saudi government.

“So, we do that in America, and that’s where I mentioned that we’re going back to the moon, this time after a half century, because we were on the moon a half-century ago.

“This time, we’re going back to the moon for a different reason, we’re going to learn, to invent, to create in order to be able to go to Mars and beyond. And this time we go back with commercial enterprises.”

NASA’s Apollo 17, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in December 2022, was the space agency’s sixth and final mission to land people on the moon.

The mission landed on the Taurus-Littrow site, which offered a mix of mountainous highlands and valley lowlands, allowing the crew to collect 741 lunar samples.

Nelson told Asharq’s Hojeij that NASA has partnered with Saudi Arabia on multiple scientific instruments to send Artemis II to the moon for economic benefits and to better understand climate change.

During a meeting organized by the Saudi Space Agency and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh, Saudi space officials met with NASA chief Bill Nelson and discussed ways to deepen the cooperation in the fields of space. (Courtesy: SSA)

“We have a partnership with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We’ve already partnered on a number of scientific instruments, but we’ve got a whole way to go.

“We’re going back to the moon and then we’re going to Mars. We are constantly looking down on Earth to help our climate, to better understand what is happening to the Earth, to give very precise measurements of exactly what’s happening there.

“We’re going to coordinate and partner with Saudi Arabia on all of these things.”

Asked about space challenges and how the partnership between Riyadh and Washington sought to address them, Nelson said that debris in space was among the biggest threats to satellites and spacecraft.

“Debris in space is a major problem,” he said. “We are too often having to move our International Space Station to get it out of the way of a piece of space junk that otherwise could hit it.

“Same thing with a lot of our satellites. And so that applies to everybody’s satellites, not just US satellites, Saudi satellites.”

Nelson added that NASA was working with partners “to come up with systems and mechanisms by which we can require the manufacturers of satellites to be able, after their useful life, have a precise landing back through the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up and if any pieces are left over, that they would fall harmlessly in the southern Pacific Ocean.”

Underscoring the importance of these efforts, he said that “whenever something is left in space, it becomes a dangerous projectile that could always ram into something, like our space station.”

The UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security, in its Interconnected Disaster Risks 2023 report, included space debris among its six risk tipping points.

The report, released in February, found that there were 35,150 tracked objects in orbit in 2023. Just 25 percent of these were working satellites while the rest were considered junk, including broken satellites and rocket parts.

This illustration from the Interconnected Disaster Risks 2023 report of the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security shows computer-generated images of objects in Earth orbit being tracked as of January 2019. Approximately 95% of the objects in the illustration, according to the report that included space debris among its six risk tipping points. (Credit: UNU-EHS)

As objects in space travel at speeds exceeding 25,000 km per hour, any collision may be “catastrophic,” and even the smallest objects can cause significant damage, according to the same UNU-EHS report.

Asked about the Artemis Accords, which Saudi Arabia signed in 2022, the NASA administrator described it as “a common sense set of principles of the peaceful uses of space.

“For example, in the Artemis Accords, we have that you would come to the aid and assistance of a nation that would have a problem in space,” he said.

“We would develop common elements so that you could help each other out, perhaps remotely in space. But, basically, the thrust of it is the peaceful use of space.”

Saudi Arabia is the 21st country globally and the fourth Middle Eastern nation to sign the Artemis Accords, which set out common principles, guidelines and best practices to ensure safe, peaceful and sustainable space exploration.

Nelson’s visit to the Kingdom is intended to explore future collaboration between the US space agency and key government officials, while also emphasizing the significance of civil space cooperation in the broader US-Saudi relationship

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’ and key Saudi government officials explored future collaboration between the US space agency and the Kingdom's space agency. (

The Saudi Space Agency was launched by royal decree in December 2018 to accelerate economic diversification, enhance research and development, and raise private-sector participation in the global space industry.

Since its launch, the Kingdom’s state-funded space program has struck deals with several of the world’s established space agencies, astronautical companies and top universities to benefit from advanced technological cooperation.

Saudi Arabia’s space industry holds great potential for growth after recording $400 million in revenue in 2022, according to a report by the Saudi Communications, Space and Technology Commission published late last year.

The global space economy is projected to expand to $1.8 trillion by 2035, marking a threefold increase from $630 billion in 2023, according to research published by the World Economic Forum in April.

A growing number of businesses across sectors including agriculture, construction, insurance and climate-change mitigation, are expected to drive the new and expanding space economy.

This rapid surge is being driven by reduced costs and broader accessibility to space-enabled technologies, encompassing various commercial sectors such as communications, positioning, navigation, timing, Earth observation services, tourism and manufacturing.

While state-sponsored investments will remain the cornerstone of the industry, enhanced collaboration between various stakeholders across public and private sectors will be increasingly important to fully realize the sector’s potential in the future.


Oil Updates – crude set for best week in over 2 months on solid demand outlook

Updated 12 sec ago

Oil Updates – crude set for best week in over 2 months on solid demand outlook

SINGAPORE: Oil prices eased on Friday as markets evaluated the impact of US interest rates staying higher for longer than anticipated, but crude benchmarks headed for their best week in more than two months after solid projections for crude and fuel demand, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures were down 34 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $82.41 a barrel by 6:44 a.m. Saudi time. West Texas Intermediate US crude futures lost 41 cents, or 0.5 percent, to trade at $78.21 a barrel.

However, Brent and the US benchmark gained over 3 percent for the week — the best week since April 5.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries stuck to a forecast for relatively strong growth in global oil demand for 2024 and Goldman Sachs projected solid US fuel demand this summer.

This helped reverse losses in the previous week which were driven by an agreement by OPEC and its allies, together called OPEC+, to start unwinding output cuts after September.

“Overall, this week can be characterised as a recovery effort for oil,” said Tim Waterer, chief market analyst at KCM Trade based in Australia.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see oil prices head higher from here whilst the demand outlook continues to look rosier. Much may depend on how the northern hemisphere summer demand picture plays out.”

Providing further support to the market, Russia pledged to meet its output obligations under the OPEC+ pact, after saying it exceeded its quota in May.

However, the price rally this week cooled after the US Federal Reserve held interest rates steady and pushed out the start of rate cuts to as late as December.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency said in a report on Wednesday it sees oil demand peaking by 2029, levelling off at around 106 million barrels per day toward the end of the decade.

On the downside, concerns over economic outlook grew after the Fed’s view on rate cut, but that said, to the extent that this buoys the US dollar, it could offer a measure of support to Brent, BMI analysts wrote in a note.

Market focus is also on the ongoing Gaza ceasefire talks, which, if resolved, would alleviate concerns about potential disruptions in oil supply from the region.

The US is very concerned that hostilities on the Israel-Lebanon border could escalate to a full-out war, a senior US official said, saying that specific security arrangements are needed for the area and a ceasefire in Gaza is not enough. 

Saudi Arabia’s PIF showcases achievements in balancing biodiversity conservation and investments

Updated 13 June 2024

Saudi Arabia’s PIF showcases achievements in balancing biodiversity conservation and investments

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has detailed its successful balancing of biodiversity conservation with its investment initiatives.

The Public Investment Fund highlighted its undertakings spanning diverse sectors, with a focus on sustainable, eco-friendly, and luxurious tourism, as well as responsible mining practices.

According to the UN, human activity, driven largely by unsustainable practices, is the primary driver behind an ongoing biodiversity crisis, with 44,000 species endangered, 70 percent of coral reefs at risk, and fertile land loss surging by 29 percent since 2000.

Saudi Arabia, home to a vast array of plant and animal species, is actively addressing these challenges. 

In a statement, PIF emphasized its role as a major contributor to the Kingdom’s goals for protecting the environment, climate, natural resources, and biodiversity.

The fund pointed out that “it is possible to align successful and realist investment with environmental priorities.”

This holistic approach also promotes responsible investment in protected areas, particularly in nations rich in biodiversity – a commitment echoed by PIF as it strives to achieve Saudi Arabia’s environmental and biodiversity conservation goals.

One of the Kingdom’s wealth fund’s initiatives is Red Sea Global, which was established to develop tourist destinations in harmony with sustainable practices. 

The giga-project has conducted extensive baseline studies of marine biodiversity in the Red Sea and Amala regions to inform strategic planning aimed at nurturing the region’s tourism sector while preserving its ecological balance.

Building on its environmental database, Red Sea Global aims to achieve a 30 percent positive biodiversity conservation return by 2040.

Its initiatives include species protection and habitat restoration efforts, supported by accolades such as the “Regional Sector Leader” award from the Global Real Estate Sustainability Index.

PIF is keen to preserve Saudi Arabia’s wide range of biodiversity. Supplied

PIF’s commitment extends beyond tourism to initiatives like Dan Co., which is dedicated to eco-friendly tourism projects across Saudi Arabia. 

Launched in December 2023, Dan Co. aims “to achieve leadership in the field of rural and environmental tourism” through partnerships with local communities, offering visitors experiences that showcase Saudi Arabia’s diverse cultural values.

Moreover, Soudah Development Co. focuses on creating luxury mountain tourism destinations in Asir, integrating environmental sustainability with cultural preservation and community empowerment. 

By partnering with local wildlife and vegetation conservation authorities, Soudah Development plays a crucial role in advancing Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Green Initiative to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

In tandem with these efforts, mining company Ma’aden has embarked on environmental undertakings, including projects for vegetation improvement and mangrove preservation along coastal areas—crucial for community livelihoods and ecological stability. 

Ma’aden’s commitment to biodiversity management sets benchmarks for responsible mining practices across its operational spectrum.

According to PIF, these collaborative models illustrate that robust investment strategies can coexist with environmental conservation imperatives. 

The fund stated: “PIF is moving toward achieving sustainable economic and social development capable of ensuring continued economic growth while protecting natural diversity through an integrated system of vital initiatives and projects that shape the future for generations to come.”

The Kingdom boasts rich biodiversity, including 499 species of birds, 117 mammals, 107 reptiles, 266 coral, 1,230 types of fish, eight amphibians, and over 2,400 flowering plants, according to the National Center for Wildlife.

Recent events, such as Saudi Arabia’s participation at the High-Level Event on Ocean Action in San José, Costa Rica, on June 10, underscore the Kingdom commitment’s in this field. 

The event, attended by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Climate Affairs Envoy Adel Al-Jubeir, focused on sharing expertise in ocean governance and safety, addressing critical challenges marine environments face. 

At the accompanying exhibition, the Saudi delegation showcased national initiatives under the banner of “Blue Saudi,” highlighting efforts such as assessing and rehabilitating environmental habitats in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf. 

Emphasizing the importance of preserving biodiversity, the delegation presented plans to designate protected areas and ambitious programs to plant mangrove trees and combat plastic pollution through legislative measures and waste management initiatives. 

Saudi Arabia reiterated its commitment to sustainable practices under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, underscoring its dedication to conserving marine biodiversity.

In May of this year, the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve in Saudi Arabia achieved accreditation as “the first major biodiversity site in the Kingdom,” confirmed by Key Biodiversity Areas. 

The reserve, spanning 130,700 sq. km, meets three global standards, including the presence of endangered species, qualifying it for this prestigious recognition, which coincides with the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22 each year.

Managed by the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve Development Authority, the Saudi reserve aims to safeguard endangered species, enhance natural habitats, promote environmental awareness, and mitigate threats from natural and human factors. 

This area is recognized as the largest nature reserve in the Middle East.

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in red at 11,498 

Updated 13 June 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in red at 11,498 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index dipped on Thursday, losing 152.88 points, or 1.31 percent, to close at 11,498.93.   

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR10.97 billion ($2,92 billion) as 62 of the listed stocks advanced, while 165 retreated.    

Similarly, the MSCI Tadawul Index decreased by 18.86 points, or 1.29 percent, to close at 1,437.54. 

However, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu increased by 104.55 points, or 0.39 percent, to close at 26,753.99. This comes as 30 of the listed stocks advanced, while as many as 27 retreated.  

The top-performing stock of the day was Rasan Information Technology Co., which saw its share price surge by 30 percent to SR48.10. 

Other top performers included Al Taiseer Group Talco Industrial Co. and Al Moammar Information Systems Co., whose share prices soared by 14.42 percent and 7.24 percent, to stand at SR49.20 and SR163, respectively. 

In addition to this, other top performers included Saudi Cable Co. and Chubb Arabia Cooperative Insurance Co. 

The worst performer of the day was Saudi Manpower Solutions Co., with its share price dropping by 8.51 percent to SR8.28. 

Other poor performers included ACWA Power Co. and Miahona Co., with their share prices declining by 5.31 percent and 5.19 percent to reach SR331.80 and SR21.56, respectively. 

Furthermore, other underperforming stocks included Sahara International Petrochemical Co. and Savola Group. 

On the announcements front, Rasan Information Technology Co. surged in its Riyadh debut, raising SR841 million with its shares peaking at SR48.1, a 30 percent increase from the offer price of SR37. 

Bloomberg reported that the IPO saw strong demand, with orders totaling $29 billion, making it oversubscribed 129 times, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s push to diversify its stock exchange beyond traditional sectors like banking and industry.  

“Rasan, which operates online insurance platforms such as Tameeni and Treza, will be among the first fintech firms to go public in the kingdom, which has only seen a few tech listings so far,” Bloomberg added. 

Besides Rasan, buy-now-pay-later firm Tabby and online cosmetics retailer Nice One are considering IPOs, according to Bloomberg News. 

Flyadeal receives first fully-owned aircraft in landmark moment 

Updated 13 June 2024

Flyadeal receives first fully-owned aircraft in landmark moment 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s low-cost airline flyadeal has taken delivery of its first-ever wholly-owned aircraft in a “milestone” moment, according to the CEO.

The airline received the Airbus A320neo, named Al Sama after an Arabic constellation star in Toulouse, Airbus’ main assembly site.

This acquisition is also the company’s first new aircraft in 2024 and marks the beginning of a delivery plan that includes adding four vessels this year and eight A320neos in 2025.

The newly acquired aircraft will join the airline’s expanding domestic and international route network, serving nearly 30 destinations across Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa.

Flyadeal CEO Steven Greenway, along with colleagues Ahmed Bakadam, director of maintenance and engineering, and Ali Al-Zahrani, senior manager technical fleet, gathered in France for the official exchange. 

“The addition of aircraft number 33 represents a symbolic double milestone for flyadeal, bringing in our first fully owned aircraft and inducting the first new aircraft into the fleet this year. Until now all flyadeal aircraft are leased,” Greenway said.

He added: “With a plan targeting around 50 aircraft by the end of 2025 that will double to 100 by 2030, we are on course for a dynamic delivery schedule over the next few years. An incredible growth path that is being accelerated by the shear demand for inbound and outbound travel catering to a diverse profile of travellers.”

Greenway expressed satisfaction with their partnership with Airbus and highlighted the aircraft’s comfort and eco-friendliness, emphasizing their commitment to providing passengers with a positive flying experience. 

As part of future fleet requirements, flyadeal placed its largest ever order last month for a further 51 Airbus A320 family aircraft comprising 12 A320neos and 39 larger A321neos. 

Sporting a spacious cabin of 186 seats in a three–three configuration that features seating of the highest standards and specifications for a low-cost airline and larger than normal overhead bins, the A320neo is the backbone of flyadeal’s fleet, which is among the youngest in the industry averaging just over two years old. 

Saudi Aramco partners with NextDecade for 20-year LNG supply deal

Updated 13 June 2024

Saudi Aramco partners with NextDecade for 20-year LNG supply deal

RIYADH: Energy giant Saudi Aramco has signed a non-binding agreement with US-based NextDecade to supply 1.2 million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas for 20 years.

According to a press statement, LNG will be supplied from the fourth liquefaction train at NextDecade’s Rio Grande Facility at the Port of Brownsville in Texas. 

“Aramco and NextDecade are currently in the process of negotiating a binding agreement, and once executed, the effectiveness of which will be subject to a positive final investment decision on Train 4,” said Aramco in the press statement. 

Aramco’s Upstream President Nasir K. Al-Naimi said the company is exploring opportunities to expand its presence in the global energy market. 

“We look forward to finalizing the terms of a long-term LNG offtake agreement with NextDecade as we explore opportunities to expand our presence in international energy markets,” said Al-Naimi in the release.  

“We expect LNG to play an important role in meeting the rising demand for secure and efficient energy,” he added. 

Matt Schatzman, chairman and CEO of NextDecade, said he is “pleased to have reached a heads of agreement with Aramco for LNG from Train 4, as Aramco seeks to expand its LNG portfolio.” 

Saudi Aramco, one of the biggest energy firms in the world, has been taking crucial steps in recent months to expand its global presence. 

In May, Aramco completed the acquisition of a 40 percent stake in Gas & Oil Pakistan, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuel retail market.

In April, Saudi Aramco disclosed that it is in talks to acquire a 10 percent stake in China’s Hengli Petrochemical, aiming to strengthen Aramco’s growing downstream presence in the Asian country. 

In February, speaking at the India Energy Week in Goa, Faisal Faqeer, Saudi Aramco’s senior vice president of liquids to chemicals development downstream, revealed that the energy giant is engaged in investment discussions with several Indian companies. 

Earlier this month, Saudi Aramco also retained the leading spot in Forbes Middle East’s Top 100 listed companies for 2024, with $660.8 billion in assets and $1.9 trillion in market value.

Moreover, Saudi Aramco continued its strong fiscal performance in the first quarter of this year amid global economic uncertainties and geopolitical tensions. 

On May 12, Saudi Aramco revealed that its net profit for the first quarter of this year reached $27.27 billion, representing a rise of 2.04 percent compared to the last three months of 2023. 

According to a statement, the oil firm’s total revenue for the three months to the end of March stood at $107.21 billion, with total operating income for the period reaching $58.88 billion.