Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has launched more than a dozen satellites and is planning to launch seven more before the end of the decade. The National Satellite Technology Centre at the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST) spearheads the kingdom’s space programme from policy formulation to investment promotion.

Prince Sultan

Prince Sultan

Prince Sultan (Born 1959) Tourism minister and the first Arab in space in 1985.

Riyadh’s journey into space began in 1985 when Sultan bin Salman al-Saud, a member of the royal family, was a payload specialist on the 18th flight of Nasa’s space shuttle programme.

Saudi Arabia’s space programme is synchronised with its broader 20-year national science, technology and innovation plan. The space programme is divided into four five-year plans. The first phase, which covered 2005-10, entailed the establishment of infrastructure to enable space-related science, technology and innovation. The final phase, covering the period 2020-25, entails participation of the sector in transforming the kingdom into a knowledge-based economy.

As of 2015, Saudi Arabia had 550 space engineers, with women accounting for close to 10 per cent. The kingdom aims to bring the number of engineers to 850 by 2020, with women accounting for 12 per cent of the total.

Key priorities have included developing remote sensing and geographical information system capabilities to aid urban development and disaster management in addition to the development of satellite systems. It has also identified 15 priorities for space technology applications, including water, oil and gas, energy, biotechnology, IT, agriculture technology and health.

KACST has established joint centres of excellence with some of the leading global research organisations, including the US’ Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Nasa, as well as with the UK’s Oxford and Cambridge universities, Empa (Switzerland) and Fraunhofer (Germany).

Medina, in Saudi Arabia, as seen from the International Space Station

Medina, in Saudi Arabia, as seen from the International Space Station

Medina, in Saudi Arabia, as seen from the International Space Station


  • So far, the mini-satellites that have been deployed comprise the kingdom’s navigation constellation. The systems provide data to 16 global navigation satellite system (GNSS) stations across the kingdom, which monitor plate tectonic motion, geodetic reference frame, ionospheric studies and differential GNSS applications.
  • Saudi Arabia’s space science contributions include conducting an experiment using a drag free satellite that has a perfect gyroscope centring stability (<50nm) to ‘prove’ the theory of relativity.
  • In 2014, Taqnia, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, acquired US start-up Solar Junction. The company is the exclusive supplier of space-qualified dilute nitride solar cells. The components are expected to be available in 2017.
  • KACST has also developed a Ka-band phased array antenna frontend module prototype. The module, together with a satellite modem, can be utilised to form a nomadic satellite ground terminal. Apart from supporting Ka-band, the module also provides two-dimensional electronic beam scanning.
  • Over the next 10 years, KACST plans to develop a multi-purpose reconfigurable distributed space system that uses indigenous microsatellites for space exploration.
  • There are also plans to prepare a space and geospatial data infrastructure law in addition to legislation to introduce a strategic space-orientated consortium between government institutes.
  • KACST and the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation (Arabsat) have also signed a contract with France’s Arianespace for the launch of the Hellasat4/Saudi Geo Satellite-1 in 2018. The satellite, which will weigh 6 tonnes at launch, will be built by the US’ Lockheed Martin and launched at the Guiana Space Centre. It will provide Saudi Arabia with telecommunications and television broadcasting services from its orbital position at 39° East over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.


Cairo Egypt from Space

Cairo Egypt from Space

The National Authority for Remote Sensing & Space Sciences (Narss) develops and implements policies related to Egypt’s space programme.

Egypt is looking to tap private sector involvement as it focuses on locally manufacturing satellites and related space technologies.

Prior to adopting this new direction, Egypt’s space programme focused on optimising the use of data generated by space technology in various sectors such as agriculture, environment and industries rather than the manufacture of satellites.

Like the other Middle East states, Egypt also aims to increase its space-related human resource capacity.

“We want to introduce courses specialising in space technologies and build improved laboratories to ensure our universities produce graduates with very good skills in space technologies,” says Mahmoud Hussein Ahmed, Narss CEO.

Cooperation between the public and private sectors is being seen to help address the challenge in obtaining financing for Egypt’s future space initiatives.

Narss is understood to have signed more than 53 agreements so far with regional and international institutions for cooperation in space technology and remote sensing applications. These include agreements with:

  • European Framework Programme
  • American Egyptian Fund (National Science Foundation)
  • Canadian Space Agency
  • Waseda and Tokai universities in Japan
  • European Union
  • Italian Space Agency


Algeria’s National Space Programme (NSP) is the state’s strategy for the development of space activities between 2006-20. The programme aims to reinforce national sovereignty, sustainable development and space technology expertise. In particular, the NSP aims to improve the efficiency of natural resources management and major risk prevention, build capacity for space applications and promote the use of space technology in different fields.

Algeria’s first earth observation satellite, Alsat-1, was launched in 2002. It was to be the first of five satellites for the state’s disaster monitoring constellation. The satellite has a resolution of 32 metres in multispectral mode.

Alsat-2 was launched in 2010. It was designed to provide mapping services to support natural resources and city planning as well as Algeria’s defence and security agencies and industries such as oil and mining, water resources and agriculture.

Algeria has also launched a nanosatellite, Alsat 1N, which was developed within the framework of the cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom Space Agency.

Mission to Mars

Mission to Mars

The UAE Space Ageny’s ambitious goal is to launch the Arab world’s first unmanned mission to Mars in 2021

The control, positioning and in-orbit testing activities and the reception of satellite images and data from the three satellites are carried out from the control and reception centre of the Oran and Centre Satellite Development Centre Receiving and Exploiting Satellite Images (CREIS) of Ouargla, under the authority of the Department of National Defence.

Algeria’s first telecoms satellite system, Alcomsat-1, is expected to be launched in June 2017. It will enable internet access across the entire country, including the most remote regions. The satellite will serve as a backup internet connection in the case of interruption in the country’s fibre-optic system.

Algeria has signed bilateral agreements with space agencies in countries including Russia, India and the UK to advance its own space programme.

Space agency Country

National Commission on Space Activities (Conae)


United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA)

United Kingdom

National Centre of Space Studies (CNES)


Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities


Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)


Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)

Republic of Korea

South African Space Agency (Sansa)

South Africa

Malaysian National Space Agency


Source: Asal


In Iran, improving telecommunications and natural disaster monitoring drive the space programme.

Mohsen Bahrami heads the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), whose stated mandate includes research, design and manufacture of operational satellites, and developing and expanding space applications across the country.

The ISA is affiliated with Iran’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology. The Iran Aerospace Research Centre (IARC) leads the country’s space research initiatives.

The budgets of the two agencies vary from year to year, although the IARC is understood to have received $67.3m in 2014.

Iran is a member of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation (APSCO). Other APSCO members include Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand and Turkey.

Iran has said it is undertaking bilateral negotiations with space agency organisations in Russia, China and Japan for potential collaboration. Bahrami also expressed willingness to work with the US’ Nasa, despite the US’ general reluctance that the Islamic Republic could use its space capability to expand its military surveillance and enable the production of long-range missiles.


  • Sinah-1, the first Iranian-owned and Russian-developed satellite with a mass of 160kg, was launched in 2005, carrying two cameras and communications equipment.
  • Iran’s indigenous space programme took off in 2009 with the launch into orbit of Omid, a data processing satellite. Its first imaging satellite, Rasad, was launched two years later by Iran’s Safir 2 satellite carrier.
  • This was followed by the launch of Navid, which undertook remote measurement, and the launch of the Pazhouhesh with a live payload shortly after.
  • Iran has been preparing to launch its first telecommunications satellite Nahid for some time, along with Mesbah 2, a low earth orbit satellite with store and dump communications capability. The first Mesbah was built with the aid of Italy’s Carlo Gavazzi, but failed to launch due to sanctions.
  • Three satellites are being manufactured by the ISA and its partner research institutes and universities. It is understood that three of these satellites – Nahid 1, Amir Kabir-1 and Doosti – are now ready for launch.