The KhalifaSat was launched on an H-IIA rocket in Japan on Monday © JAXA
The KhalifaSat was launched on an H-IIA rocket in Japan on Monday © JAXA

UAE's first homegrown satellite goes into orbit

The first satellite built and designed solely by UAE nationals has gone into orbit.

Developed by a team at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the KhalifaSat was launched on Monday morning from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.

Launched on an H-IIA rocket, the satellite sent its first images back to the MBRSC’s ground centre soon after.

It is the third satellite in orbit operated by the MBRSC, following the DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2, which launched in 2009 and 2013 respectively.

However, KhalifaSat is the first engineered and designed solely by the UAE, led by a team of 45 Emirati engineers. DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 were co-produced with Satrec Initiative, a South Korean manufacturer.

The satellite will take pictures of earth, which will be used in part for environmental monitoring, taking detailed images of the ice caps in the North and South Poles, in an attempt to detect the effects of global warming, said the MBRSC.

It will also be used for urban planning, it added, with images helping to make detailed maps of proposed sites for major engineering and construction projects in the UAE.

At 3.3m wide, it is the biggest satellite ever put into space by the UAE, and will orbit between 580km and 620km above the earth.

Asked by Khaleej Times, Amer Al Sayegh, MBRSC’s project manager of the KhalifaSat, refused to say how much the project had cost.

SM has approached MBRSC for comment on the price tag. In 2015, the UAE Space Agency said the country's investment in the space sector came to more than $5.4bn a year.

Al Sayegh said the project was an improvement on its predecessors in terms of download and communication speed with ground control.

“We have improved the satellite automatic control system with high storage capacity. This will allow us to take different images across different locations on earth within one pass and enable customers to produce 3D maps for their own applications," he said.

Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu’alla, a UAE Supreme Council member, claimed the project would “reinforce the country’s stature in space exploration and will make it among the leading countries in this field,” according to the state Emirates News Agency.

The country’s minister of culture, Noura Al Kaabi tweeted the project proved “the ability of our youth to make the future and compete globally”.

The UAE can now turn its gaze to its biggest space project for the future: an attempt to colonise Mars.

The Mars 2117 project “looks forward to a hundred years of scientific renaissance in the UAE, and to the exploration and settlement of Mars,” according to the MBRSC.

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