First UAE astronaut to launch in September, Sputnik notes

 The first UAE astronaut will blast off into space in September, according to Russian reports.

State-owned news agency Sputnik reported that the rocket, which will carry the pioneering Emirati, would launch on September 25.

A three-man crew will return to Earth on October 3 following eight days in space, rather than the 10 days that were originally announced.

Sputnik claimed the date for the Russian mission, which the UAE is participating in, was moved forward from October.

The Dubai-based Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre has not yet confirmed the amended details.

On its way to the International Space Station, the Soyuz rocket will carry one of the two Emirati astronauts who are currently undergoing training – Hazza Al Mansouri, or Sultan Al Neyadi, – as well as a Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and American flight engineer Chris Cassidy.

On its return, the rocket will bring back the UAE astronaut and a returning crew from the ISS who have spent several months in space.

Under an agreement signed with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the first UAE astronaut was scheduled to go into orbit in April.

Those plans were disrupted by the aborted launch of a Soyuz rocket last October. What should have been a routine mission ended with the crew making an emergency landing just three minutes into the flight.

A faulty sensor on a booster rocket caused an inquiry later found the failure during separation.

Russia briefly suspended Soyuz flights, before allowing them to resume in early December, but the issue forced a rethink of its timetable for future missions.

The UAE astronaut's place on the MS-12 was bumped following the incident as the seats were reportedly reserved for the two astronauts from the previous mission who had missed out.

It is expected that the Emirati astronaut will be accompanied on the return home by one of them – Russia’s Aleksey Ovchinin.

The two Emiratis are training for the mission, enduring simulations of zero gravity and learning to fend for themselves in the wilderness to prepare them for the possibility of an off-course landing in Siberia.

They were chosen from more than 4,000 hopefuls in a national competition organized by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, and only one of them will be picked to take part in September's space mission.

The United Arab Emirates will seek to encourage both investment in space ventures in the country as well as investment by domestic funds into the broader space industry under a new plan.

The “National Plan for the Promotion of Space Investment,” announced last week by the UAE Space Agency, is part of a wider initiative to turn the country into a rising space power through projects ranging from a Mars mission to launching the country’s first astronaut.

The plan seeks to encourage foreign investment in the UAE’s emerging space sector, while also encouraging the country’s own investment vehicles to invest in the industry, either within or outside the country, according to a statement from the space agency. It added that details about the plan will be released in the coming months, but will include creation of business accelerators, funds and specially designated economic zones.

“The UAE Space Agency, as a federal government entity, will actively play the part of an enabler and facilitator to encourage local and foreign investment in the sector, and proactively design a conducive environment which ensures startups and investors feel welcome and have access to business in the UAE that can drive their growth potential,” said Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, in a statement.

The space industry is not new to the country. Mobile satellite operator Thuraya was founded in the UAE in the 1990s, operating two satellites in geostationary orbit to provide voice and data services from Europe to Asia. Yahsat, a satellite operator also based in the UAE that operates three geostationary orbit satellites, acquired Thuraya in 2018.

In 2009, Aabar Investments, an Abu Dhabi-based fund now part of Mubadala Investment Company, invested $280 million into suborbital spaceflight operator Virgin Galactic for a roughly one-third stake in the company. This has led to discussions, but no firm plans, to eventually operate one of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicles from the UAE.

The UAE government has, in recent years, invested more attention, and money, into space initiatives, including the formation of the UAE Space Agency and establishment of a national space law. Among those projects is the country’s first Mars orbiter mission, Hope, scheduled for launch in 2020. The domestically built KhalifaSat remote sensing satellite, the first such satellite developed entirely within the UAE, launched in October 2018 on a Japanese H-2 rocket.

The agency also recruited its first class of astronauts last year, one of which will fly on a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. That mission was scheduled to take place this spring but has been delayed until the fall because of changes in the overall schedule of Soyuz missions to the ISS prompted by a launch failure in October 2018 that aborted the Soyuz MS-10 mission to the station.