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The UAE’s space bid is about much more than just oil

For Equal Times

Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

For some time now, players such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with no tradition in the space industry but no less determined to occupy key positions, have been making their presence felt on the fringes of the space race between the major powers. A fine example is the historic milestone achieved by the UAE on placing the Al Amal (Hope) spacecraft in orbit around Mars, on 9 February 2021, to coincide with the country’s Golden Jubilee. It was a resounding success that will no doubt act as a real boost to the autocratic regime headed by de facto ruler Mohammed bin Zayed, better known as MBZ.

True, this huge technical feat makes the UAE the first Arab country to reach the red planet, the second country (after India) to do so on the first attempt, and the fifth in the world, ahead of China and preceded only by the USSR, the United States, the European Union and India. It is also true that Emirati engineers have dramatically improved the UAE’s capabilities since the creation of its space agency in 2014, initially thanks to cooperation agreements with Paris and London for the building of a few small satellites (such as the KhalifaSat, launched in October 2019) and with the sending of its first astronaut to the International Space Station in 2019.

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