The launch of a new commercial satellite is set to provide power to over 140 countries
The latest UAE satellite and the second commercial telecommunications satellite – the Y1B was successfully launched on April 24, 2012, establishing the country as the biggest technical hub in the region.
This was the second of Abu Dhabi’s satellites. It was launched from Kazakhstan. The first UAE commercial telecommunications satellite – the Y1A was released into space from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on April 23 last year. Together they will have a huge impact on the region – propelling it into the forefront of global technologically, and increasing business as a result.
Not so long ago, few countries around the world had satellites and those satellites that did exist were used primarily in a military capacity, for activities such as navigation and espionage. These days however, satellites are more common.
In fact they allow many of the things that we take for granted in everyday life to occur. They’re used to gauge weather conditions; for the transmission of television programmes; and they make it possible for mobile phone calls to take place.
Both UAE satellites are part of a Dh4.4 billion-plan to technologically modernise the UAE. They were launched by Yahsat, or the Al Yah Satellite Communications Company, owned by Mubadala Development – an investment company controlled by the Abu Dhabi Government. Their impact should not be underestimated. Together they’ll provide commercial TV and broadband Internet to 140 countries throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East; as well as contributing to making Abu Dhabi a regional technical hub.
The Y1A satellite was launched aboard the Ariane 5 ECA rocket and was initially delayed for nine days due to technical issues.
However it eventually reached its orbit about 36,000 kilometres above the equator. Meanwhile the Y1B was due to be launched at the end of last year, but was postponed to April 2012. It has a lifespan of 15 years.
Built in Europe by the corporate consortium of EADS Astrium, Thales and Alenia Space, the Yahsat satellites will travel around the planet, at a speed of 3.07 kilometres per second, the same speed at which the Earth rotates.
The first ever satellite – The Soviet Sputnik, was launched by the Russians in 1957 on October 4. It was sent into orbit from a station in Kazakhstan and because of the secrecy surrounding the Soviet government at the time, no photographs of the event were taken. Sputnik was a 58cm, 83kg metal ball.
In 2009, the first UAE satellite – the Dubai Sat-1 was sent into orbit with the purpose of collecting data, acting as an ‘eye in the sky’.
The more modern Y1A and Y1B satellites weigh six tonnes each and have impressive wingspan of 30 metres once unfurled.
Half a dozen antennas – nine metres in length – connect the satellites and beam up instructions to offer commercial television and internet feeds through its service partners.
These are amongst the biggest geostationary satellites currently in orbit, according to Martin Gee, the Yahsat Chief Technology Officer.
Jassem Mohamed Al Zaabi, CEO of Yahsat and the Executive Director of Mubadala Information, Communications and Technology points out that the UAE should be proud of its space programme.
"It’s a fantastic achievement,” he says. “By expanding our satellite communication capabilities, we’re supporting the development of an advanced information and communications infrastructure that will drive economic diversification and social progress across the whole region.”
In addition to extending services to the civilian market, Abu Dhabi’s satellites will also provide the first secure Ka band communications capacity (YahSecure) within the coverage area, enabling stateof- the-art infrastructure for military communications.”
Yahsat has already signed a 15-year agreement with the UAE Armed Forces to provide an integrated satellite communications network and control centre.
The satellite programme will also create jobs in the region as they will be managed by a team of trained UAE-national satellite controllers, based in the Yahsat control station in Al Falah, Abu Dhabi. About half of the satellite operation engineers at Yahsat's mission control station are Emirati. They typically make critical decisions about adjustments to the satellite on a daily basis to ensure it does not veer off course.
Satellite communications, "are a central component of our modern economy," says Al Zaabi, the Yahsat Chief Executive. "We want our young people to be at the forefront of this developing industry.”
While Yahsat has not officially partnered with local universities yet, it looks likely that will happen soon. The company has recently held workshops at the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research, which offers degrees in aerospace engineering and communication engineering.
Millions of ordinary people across 27 different countries will also benefit from access to broadband and phone services, which Yahsat says will now be available for the same cost as terrestrial services. The government also has a majority stake in the Thuraya satellite telephone company. What’s more Aabar Investments, also government – owned, holds a 32 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic, the world's first commercial space flight firm. Abu Dhabi could even serve as a launch venue if Virgin Galactic opts to build one in the region.
"The developments here [in the UAE] in terms of space and technology are all happening very fast and Yahsat is a huge step in this respect," said Salem al Marri, the Space Programme Director at the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology, which operates, launched in 2009.
And it seems there’s no stopping the UAE in terms of technical advances. Two more remote sensing and imaging satellites are to be launched in the next five years.