The Newest Addition to Saudi’s Growing Knowledge Economy: Space Exploration

Saudi Arabia is making significant strides in the development of its domestic space industry as part of its economic diversification efforts. The global space economy is predicted to reach a value of $1 trillion this year, with the Saudi space industry contributing an estimated $400 million in 2022. This figure is projected to rise to an average of $2.2 billion per annum by 2030. The economic transformation strategy, known as Saudi Vision 2030, aims to establish the country as a major player in global investment. This involves leveraging advanced scientific research and human development to build a strong knowledge economy, with a focus on sectors such as space sciences.

Saudi authorities are exploring possibilities for partnerships in the space sector, which could enhance areas like health and medicine, transportation, and IT. One of the key developments in this regard is space tourism. Halo Space, a global space tourism firm, recently revealed plans for its next stratospheric test flight to be launched from Saudi Arabia in June. The initiative, approved by the Communications, Space and Technology Commission (CSTC), is a part of a project aiming to offer tourist flights into the stratosphere from Saudi Arabia starting 2026. The revenue from this sector could reach $600 million by 2030.

The CSTC and the Saudi Space Agency (SSA) are the two government bodies spearheading the reforms in the Saudi space sector. Both agencies are working collaboratively to promote space research and entrepreneurship, and to effectively administer the sector. The space industry plays a critical role in national security and defense preparedness, and Saudi Arabia, being the largest defense spender in the region and the sixth-largest globally, is actively investing in defense technologies and vocational training.

The convergence of the space sector and national defense strategies is most evident in satellite communications. Satellites are instrumental in enhancing military communications and supporting navigation, weather forecasting, and environmental monitoring. Agricultural-monitoring satellites have the potential to bolster Saudi food security by optimizing crop yields.

Saudi Arabia’s foray into satellite manufacturing began in 2023 with a $266.6 million deal with Hong Kong-based ASPACE to establish a factory in the kingdom. The country has also formed numerous international commercial partnerships in the space sector, including a memorandum of understanding with Canadian firm NorthStar to develop space situational awareness technologies, and a partnership with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch the Saudi Arabsat Badr-8 communications satellite.

The space industry also provides opportunities for Saudi women and young people. British company Serco launched its Middle East Space Graduate Program in Saudi Arabia in 2023, offering training in space science and technology. Saudi Arabia also sent its first female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, to the International Space Station in May 2023.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia’s focus on the space sector is expected to not only enhance its telecommunications and national security but also stimulate entrepreneurship, empower women, and create employment opportunities. The country aims to leverage this sector to bolster its standing as a major international diplomatic and economic power.

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