Interviews Operators Satellite

Deputy Technical Officer Adnan Al Muhairi on Yahsat’s technical journey

Adnan Al Muhairi tells SatellitePro ME about how he intends to develop Yahsat's technical solutions to better service the operator's customers.

In his role as Deputy Chief Technical Officer (CTO), Adnan Al Muhairi is committed to designing and developing technological solutions with his team to better serve Yahsat and Thuraya customers. This responsibility includes addressing parts of the world that do not have access to communications and enabling robust, secure, government communication systems in an innovative, cost-effective and reliable manner.

Adnan has had a distinguished career in the space industry. He was part of the development programme in South Korea as a research and development engineer on the UAE’s first successful remote sensing spacecraft, Dubaisat-1 and Dubaisat-2. He has also worked on the UAE’s first communication spacecraft, Al Yah 1 and Al Yah 2, and he was the Program Director of the Al Yah 3 space communications system – a highly advanced space network that expanded Yahsat’s services into Brazil. Adnan obtained a BSc. in Avionics/Engineering Management from the Higher College of Technology.

What were you involved in before taking on your current role?

After completing college, I was asked to be part of a satellite development programme in South Korea. I participated for three years, working as a Research and Development Engineer on the UAE’s first successful remote sensing spacecraft, Dubaisat-1 and Dubaisat-2. My next project was in France, overseeing Payload Engineering for the UAE’s first communication spacecraft, Al Yah 1 and Al Yah 2 – a $2bn programme that now serves multiple commercial and governmental entities globally. This network introduced the first true satellite broadband service across the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa, enabling diverse commercial communication services in these regions.

Soon afterwards, I moved to the Engineering division at Yahsat, where we designed multiple future systems and ultimately implemented the Al Yah 3 satellite communications system, a highly advanced space network that expanded our services into Brazil. I managed this programme for nearly four years in Virginia in the US, managing a core team of seven professionals, HQ Engineering support as well as industry specialists. I personally designed this structure to be lean and cost-effective. During this time, I collaborated with many government entities and global industry leaders such as Boeing, Lockheed, Airbus, Thales, Mitsubishi, NEC, OrbitalATK, Tesat, L3 Technologies, ILS and Arianespace.

What are some of the technical developments at Yahsat?

We are embarking on an ambitious space and ground systems replacement programme for Thuraya in Q1 of 2020, which includes one advanced L-band spacecraft. With the induction of the new satellite, the overall capacity and performance of the Thuraya network is set to increase considerably. Enhanced L-band performance means higher data rates through smaller terminals that can support a wider range of voice, narrowband and broadband applications for current and new user segments. Subsequently, we will be developing new products and services that require higher bandwidth and throughput.

We will disclose more information about Thuraya’s next-generation system in due course. But it will be a shot in the arm for our aero mobility and IoT/M2M businesses.

What responsibilities does your new role entail?

As Deputy CTO, I ensure that Yahsat and Thuraya implement optimal satellite solutions to serve our customers. This includes addressing parts of the world that do not have access to communications. I make sure that our satellite fleet and ground systems are secure and reliable. I also help train and mentor young Emiratis at Yahsat. I lead three great teams: Space Segment Engineering, Systems Engineering and Ground Engineering. We are responsible for many engineering tasks such as design, integration and delivery of satellite systems and various engineering analyses to support our customers.

With LEO and MEO gaining ground, is Yahsat exploring any partnerships on this front?

While LEO and MEO constellations are finally gaining traction, they are not without their set of challenges. We are still unsure of the cost of these deployments and if there is sufficient demand for multiple constellations to coexist. We are in discussions with key players to explore different options. One thing is certain: we are not considering launching a LEO or a MEO constellation. We will be paying close attention to the operators to see how we can drive win-win partnerships. While these conversations are happening, let me add that the new space and the old space can definitely coexist. While innovation in the space segment is good, we must also consider overhauling the intelligence on the ground and continue to build the existing infrastructure, because this greatly impacts our deliverables to end consumers. Ultimately, they are interested in what they get from the service provider.

Tell us about the challenges you have faced in your career.

I was Programme Director for the Al Yah 3 satellite. I was responsible for the whole programme, from the Request for Proposal stage to the spacecraft delivery to the launch site. This $250m programme entailed a three-and-a-half-year assignment at the manufacturer in the US and a programme management team, which comprised Emirati engineers and local contractors, to oversee all aspects of the spacecraft integration, testing and launch campaign. Al Yah 3 used a new design with a lot of new developments and a challenging schedule. It was launched in January 2018 and has been operating flawlessly, as are Al Yah 1 and Al Yah 2.