Space Commerce

Global Leaders Convene At Abu Dhabi Space Debate

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
Abu Dhabi Space Debate
December 8, 2022
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Global Leaders Convene At Abu Dhabi Space Debate
Abu Dhabi Space Debate
Abu Dhabi Space Debate

Senior leaders and experts in space exploration from the fields of government, academia and industry this week gathered in Abu Dhabi to discuss the future of space.

The debate concluded with an overarching call for international cooperation, reducing the risk of military conflict and increasing the industry’s sustainability. As part of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Space Debate (ADSD), which aims to become the world’s foremost biennial gathering for the space industry, more than 500 attendees from 50+ countries convened to strengthen bilateral partnerships and collaboration on the future of space.

Global participation fostering first of kind dialogues

Participants at ADSD, which concluded this week, included UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Sen. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Col. Kazuki Tamai of the Japan Air Self-Defence Force and Brigadier General Thierry Blanc of the French Space Command.

They were joined by a range of senior executives from international space agencies, including those of USA, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sweden, Portugal, Columbia, the Philippines and the European Space Agency, as well as private sector companies such as Airbus, Amazon Web Services, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin.

Outcomes: Memorandums of Understanding, joint-initiatives, shared programmes

In addition to increased discourse through the event itself, a range of tangible measures and partnerships were agreed over the two days. The UAE has further strengthened its role as a leading partner to nations large and small in the space sector, launching a new global Observatory centre with France, as well as signing a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Philippines. President Isaac Herzog of Israel and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan also met directly to discuss further collaboration between the two countries with regards to space.

The forum took place at a time of accelerating interest and activity in space, with more than 70 nations now operating dedicated space programmes, and the industry forecast to be worth over $1 trillion by 2030. Beyond the commercial opportunities in low earth orbit afforded by satellites, private companies are investing more into space tourism and governments and militaries are shifting their focus to permanent planetary inhabitation on the Moon and Mars.

We have provided below quotes from a range of spokespeople at ADSD, highlighting the importance of such a global gathering and outlining the international response required to negate the challenges, and capture the opportunity, of space.

Key extracts from debate

H.E. Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE’s Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency commented on the importance international exchange and cooperation in the future of space, said:

We have an enormous opportunity to examine, define and seek potential resolutions to some of the challenges facing our sector. The impacts of these challenges will be felt way beyond the space sector and have the potential to touch people’s everyday lives around the world. I believe at least some of them to be potentially existential to our peaceful and collaborative exploration of the limitless potential of space. But I also believe the impacts go beyond that – to truly define the limitless potential of humanity.

There is currently no global forum where regulators, governments, space commands, agencies, the private sector and academics can come together and take a holistic view of the development of this vital sector. This is where we believe the Abu Dhabi Space Debate has a key and valuable contribution to make in order to further define the development of our sector.”

Dr Jitendra Singh, the Indian Union Minister of State, echoed H.E. Al Amiri’s thoughts during his own address, commenting:

“If we want to ensure that the space remains a sector to serve our shared humanity, it is important to bring all the stakeholders together to discuss and deliberate about space and in this regard, this platform has the potential to shape the future of the space sector.

The list of discussions in ADSD on the role of the space sector to solve the climate issues, bringing accountability to environmental commitments, threats to and from space to the political discourse and making the presence of private sector and space innovation people driven that serve humankind; are very relevant to our time and are eye-opening topics, setting apart this initiative from any other such gathering in space sector in the past.”

On the United States’ ambitions, Sen. Bill Nelson, Administrator of NASA, added:

“As we move beyond low earth orbit, now more than ever it’s important to develop strong international cooperation and collaboration, for civilian space exploration. With now the Artemis missions, NASA will develop innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, and all of this is in preparation for us to send humans to the planet Mars. We will expand our collaboration and commercial efforts with our international partners to do this, and also to establish the first long-term presence on the moon. The next era of exploration should be done peacefully, safely and transparently.”

Dr Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, provided his own perspective during his speech, adding:

“Space, with its opportunities and challenges is an issue that affects every country in the world and every human being, one which cries out for genuine international cooperation and one in which we risk replicating existing geopolitical rivalries. No country, no matter how large, has the capacity to exploit the opportunities of space exploration by itself. The costs involved and the range of specialties make international cooperation essential to reach goals that can’t be reached alone.”

Commenting on Israel’s strengthened partnership with the UAE on space, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said:

“Our two countries are boldly leading our region toward new frontiers in space and leaving our mark on history. We must work together to harness the power of advanced space technologies to address the urgent climate crisis in the Middle East and Mediterranean. Our cooperation can turn our beautiful region into a global hub of climate solutions. It is a perfect match with Israel, a world leader in technologies for miniature satellites, high resolution and remote sensing capabilities, and cybersecurity in space.”

William Alberque, Director of the Strategy, Technology, and Arms Control Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, emphasised the geopolitical risks posed in space, commenting:

“With the return of great power competition, and particularly the UN Security Council being more divided than it has ever been, it is difficult to see the kind of co-operation that there was in the 1990s and 2000s ever coming back. At this point, the Russians have gone in their own direction in terms of international co-operation. China is seeking to become a pre-eminent power and seeking to contest the US position in predominance. We are looking at international competition and at the same time you’ve got massive involvement of smaller and medium size powers – not only nations but also industry.”

This was the first inaugural ADSD, which was hosted at the ADNOC Business Centre, and is set to return biennially over the coming years. The Debate has established itself as the preeminent global forum to address issues ranging from the geopolitical impacts of space exploration to regulation and the respective roles to be played by the public and private sectors moving forward, the stability and security of space assets in view of the political turmoil rocking the industry and the development of national science and technology programs.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.