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SpaceX to launch UAE imaging satellite MBZ-SAT

The UAE will launch its MBZ SAT imaging satellite on a Falcon 9 rideshare mission in 2023 or at the beginning of 2024.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has completed the structure model and initial tests of an Earth-imaging satellite MBZ-SAT along with the completion of the engineering and Flatsat qualification module and selected SpaceX as launch provider to deliver the satellite into space.  

The second Emirati satellite to be fully developed and built by a team of Emirati engineers after the KhalifaSat will be launched on board SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. MBZ-SAT will be scheduled for launch toward the end of 2023 or at the beginning of 2024. Falcon 9 is a reusable, two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX for the reliable and safe transport of people and payloads into Earth orbit and beyond.

MBRSC has actively engaged with regional companies in the effort to build a local hub for space-related manufacturers, and has partnered with local companies to manufacture and supply the components of MBZ-SAT. The team will now begin preparations to manufacture the flight model of MBZ-SAT.

MBRSC had earlier revealed that it had partnered with Strata, a composite aerostructures manufacturing company based in the UAE, to work jointly in developing local manufacturing capabilities for MBZ-SAT and with EPI, a precision engineering firm in the UAE, to produce parts for the satellite. Furthermore, the centre has partnered with Rockford Xellerix, a UAE-based embedded systems and wire harness connectivity solutions provider, to develop the space harness and with HALCON, a regional leader in the end-to-end manufacturing of precision-guided systems, for the development of specialised PCB assembly and rework of the satellite. MBRSC has also partnered with Falcon Group, to develop the high-quality mechanical structure of MBZ-SAT, using aluminium and titanium.

Commenting on the partnership, Yousuf Hamad AlShaibani, Director General, MBRSC said: “We are continually seeking to extend and diversify our ecosystem of partners, particularly in the strategically important area of launch partners. We are delighted to partner with SpaceX to deliver the MBZ-SAT into space as they offer the key attributes of readiness, reliability and technological expertise for this project. The launch of MBZ-SAT is only the first step to unlock future opportunities with SpaceX, and we look forward to utilising further technology developments and space resources with them.”

He added: “We are on track for the completion of MBZ-SAT as the teams have stepped up efforts to keep production on pace. The progress so far, illustrates the high level of skills and capabilities of our team of engineers and scientists. The milestone further accelerates our satellite programme and catalyses our ambition to be at the forefront of the space sector, utilising technology developments and sharing space resources for the sake of humanity. We have further extended our partnership with local firms, who have played an integral role in the progress of the project. This is in line with strengthening specialised national competencies, developing scientific and technical capabilities, spreading the culture of innovation and national pride as well as consolidating the role and position of the UAE in the space sector regionally and globally.”

Tom Ochinero, SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales remarked: “We’re honoured to support this mission, and we look forward to the successful launch of MBZ-SAT and many future projects.”

Ismail Ali Abdulla, CEO of Strata added: “The agreement between Strata and MBRSC marks a significant milestone for the manufacturing sector in the UAE. As a company that aims to solidify the ‘made with pride in the UAE’ brand across the globe, we are proud that Strata will contribute to the UAE’s efforts to develop the space sector in the region by utilising its manufacturing capabilities and expertise to create components for MBZ-SAT.”

Prabhu Badrinathen, CEO of Falcon Group, stated: “We are delighted to be a part of the MBZ-SAT project and have been working with MBRSC since its inception. Being flexible and a local company in the UAE, we try our fullest to keep our clients happy when it comes to quality, cost and delivery. We wish the team all the very best for all future endeavours and we promise to be with them in all their projects enabling them to achieve what is being dreamt by the leaders of this nation.”

Nauman Arshad, Found and CEO, Rockford Xellerice commented: “We are privileged to have worked closely with MBRSC to provide an advanced wire harness solution for the MBZ-SAT. Teamwork, technical know-how and localisation have resulted in the successful design and development of a highly reliable wire harness solution that is capable of carrying high-resolution imagery of one of the most advanced satellites in the region.”

Christian Ziehe, the Acting CEO of EPI, noted: “Our alliance with MBRSC reinforces the value of leveraging local capabilities to shape an ecosystem dedicated to manufacturing space-related technology and system. For EPI, it serves as a unique opportunity to grow the company’s expertise in the space manufacturing field, and further diversify our operations.”

MBZ-SAT will be equipped with an automated system for arranging images round-the-clock, ensuring that it provides the highest quality standards of satellite images intended for commercial use globally. The satellite will improve image capture resolution by more than double what is capable in the previously launched system. It will also increase the downlink data transmission speed by thrice the current capacity. The fully automated image scheduling and processing system of MBZ-SAT will also be able to produce more than 10 times the images the Centre produces currently.

The MBZ-SAT will be the first satellite capable of detecting a larger number of man-made as well as natural elements with a higher rate of precision and resolution, as compared to the current range of Earth observation satellites. Furthermore, the raw data gathered by the new satellite’s system will be able to process better AI functionality that can assist in quicker analysis and processing of satellite imagery.

For more than a decade, MBRSC has been providing detailed, high-resolution images that have been captured through DubaiSat-1, DubaiSat-2 and KhalifaSat satellites, according to the requirements and needs of government institutions and private sector companies around the world for more than a decade. The centre is also part of the International Disaster Charter and Sentinel Asia, playing a crucial role in disaster relief and management globally.