The UAE plans to form a space agency with the aim of sending an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, making it one of nine countries with an interplanetary programme.

The mission would represent the Arab world’s first foray into space exploration and will be led by Emirati nationals, the government said in a statement on the official Emirates News Agency (Wam).

A new UAE Space Agency will be created to coordinate the country’s growing space technology sector and to supervise the mission, which is a proposed nine-month 60-million-kilometre mission.

The Space Agency is expected to report to the federal cabinet and retain financial and administrative independence.

According to the report, UAE investments in space technologies already exceed AED20bn ($5.4bn) including satellite data and television broadcast company Al-Yah Satellite Communications, mobile satellite group Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications and Earth mapping and observation system Dubai Sat.

“We aim for the UAE to be one of the top countries in the field of aerospace by 2021,” said UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

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