September 30, 2019. 

The First Arab to Reach Low-Earth Orbit

In my role managing this region for Stellar’s international sector, I am excited to report that giant leaps in space are being made across the Arab world.  Last week, an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hazzaa Al-Mansoori, joined Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir on a mission to the International Space Station. After lifting off from Kazakhstan for a six-hour journey, the crew successfully docked their Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft to the station and made history.

Karim Sahib, L’Agence France-Presse | Laser projection of Al-Mansoori on the Burj- Khalifah in Dubai, the tallest building in the world.

An aspiration as vast as the cosmos itself, the pursuit of space is fundamental to the human experience – from children who gaze up at the stars to organized efforts to benefit and elevate both citizens and societies. It was with this ambition that the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) was founded in 2014, as a government administration responsible for developing, fostering and regulating a sustainable and world-class space sector for the nation.  The country’s leadership had long acknowledged the potential of exploration to propel the UAE to a higher technological and scientific echelon. As such, another agency was established in Dubai called the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) to work with UAESA toward the goal of establishing UAE as the premier space-faring nation in the Arab world and custodian of the first ever Arabic and Islamic mission to explore Mars.

Al-Mansoori, a military aviator, is one of two candidates selected for the inaugural UAE Astronaut Programme through the MBRSC. Announced in 2018, he began preparing for spaceflight at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, as part of an agreement between MBRSC and the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos to train Emirati astronauts.

This is clearly just the start of an expanded regional focus on research & development as well as exploration. In addition, UAE is the venue for the 2020 international Astronautical Congress, an annual policy and technical meeting of the world’s key space agencies – another important event for the country and the region as well as a sign that the Middle East is a player in space. With our current strategic presence in the UAE, Stellar Solutions is right in the middle of the action which is a great place to be!

A New Race for Space

Historically, space exploration has been limited to a handful of nations, but things are changing rapidly with numerous rising countries and technology advancements. As stated in the Space Ready: The Launchpad for Emerging Space Agencies report, “With the advances in technology, space is no longer the exclusive domain of powerful states with significant national budgets for their space programs. Smaller states, as well as a vast number of commercial enterprises, have become increasingly involved in the space arena and have demonstrated the immense socio-economic benefits that ensue.”

According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), there are approximately 31 national space agencies around the world, and the list is increasing. Countries in Europe (11) and Asia (6) have the vast majority of established agencies, while North America (3) consists of two of the most established world agencies (NASA and Canadian Space Agency) that are founding members of the International Space Station. The Middle East and North Africa (3), Africa (2), and South America (2) represent opportunities for new space, particularly as exploration is broadened through small satellites and ridesharing.

The initial cooperation for building the space station was signed by the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and the eleven member states of the European Space Agency or ESA (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom). Humans have been aboard the space station nonstop since 2000, with 239 people from 19 countries having visited. The vast majority in terms of numbers have been from the United States (151) and Russia (47), and nearly all of the 19 countries that have visited are the original ISS partners with the exception of six: Brazil, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea and now the UAE.

Of the more than 200 people to visit the station, only one has been from Africa, one from South America, and now one from the Middle East. This is another indicator of the challenge of achieving truly global participation as well as the ample need for established expertise in space that Stellar can provide to markets that are developing.

The Space Ready report notes that the UAE space program has “has quickly earned credence as a leading space power in its region. By focusing on development of national capabilities in space technology, the UAE agency aims to contribute towards economic diversification and the consolidation of a knowledge-based economy”, and that they are one of only nine countries worldwide planning missions to Mars. The report’s many recommendations to fledgling space agencies include multiple references to the importance of commercial partnerships to maximize both technical and economic potential. And this is a challenge we are uniquely poised to support. 

The space journey of Hazzaa Al-Mansoori is a vivid example of the momentous times we are in! As I write this, he is up there with an international crew of eight other astronauts, circling the Earth once every 90 minutes and helping usher in the future. 

About the Author: Mohamed Youssif is general manager for Middle East and North Africa for Stellar Solutions’ international business sector.


Stellar Solutions, Inc., based in the United States, Stellar Solutions Aerospace Limited, based in the United Kingdom, and Stellar Solutions Aerospace France operate seamlessly together to serve customers’ critical needs across global markets.