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Why space is more than just a billionaires’ playground

Above, images captured by The James Webb Space Telescope are displayed on screens at Times Square in New York. (AFP)
Above, images captured by The James Webb Space Telescope are displayed on screens at Times Square in New York. (AFP)
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22 Jul 2022 04:07:02 GMT9
22 Jul 2022 04:07:02 GMT9

Space is a hobby for billionaires and they should focus on making Earth better rather than planning settlements on Mars. This is a common view about current space activities and investments in the sector. Indeed, many people consider it to be mere entertainment and a waste of money and resources — a futile competition between the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. The media coverage and publicity around space tourism, which costs millions of dollars, has contributed to this image. Yet, in reality, it is an incorrect assumption. In fact, space is quickly becoming an integral and inevitable part of any country’s economy.

It is obvious that space tourism makes for good headlines and entertaining posts on social media. However, there is much more happening that will actually impact our lives in the future, as well as create new business opportunities. The space economy will create opportunities both in-orbit and beyond, as well as on Earth. Think of space today just as you thought of the internet 30 years ago. Just as the internet has empowered the digitization of the economy and created once-unthinkable discoveries and opportunities, we will live through the same transformation with space. It starts with the research and study of our universe that Hubble and now the James Webb Space Telescope are delivering. It also includes future discoveries thanks, for example, to experiments conducted in microgravity on the International Space Station.

Research in space improves our life on Earth. Space research brings knowledge, discoveries and improvements to our daily lives. It is a necessity for the future explorers of our solar system who will settle on the moon, Mars and beyond. This might sound like science fiction, but in reality there are already several initiatives, including many from entrepreneurs, planning sustainable infrastructure on the moon. This would be an interesting achievement for countries in the Gulf, as the capacity for sustaining life in a harsh environment such as the moon can offer solutions here on Earth.

There is a clear similarity between the challenges of the harsh conditions and scarcity one might find on the moon or on Mars and the challenges one faces in the desert. Both demand a will and determination to optimize resources. In fact, energy security, food security and water security are key challenges for life on the moon and are also national challenges for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors. Solutions delivered and advances made for sustaining life and ecosystems on the moon, such as agriculture and energy optimization, are the exact same as needed on Earth.

It was therefore very important to hear that Saudi Arabia had last week joined the Artemis Accords. Bill Nelson, the 14th NASA administrator, said that, with this step, the Kingdom is affirming its commitment to sustainable space exploration that follows a common set of principles promoting the beneficial use of space for all of humanity. The Artemis Accords are a set of principles agreed by the governments of the states participating in the Artemis program. They define the principles of cooperation and civil activities for the exploration and use of the moon, Mars, comets and asteroids for peaceful purposes.

The GCC and Saudi Arabia have an important part to play when it comes to space and they can be among the key stakeholders

Khaled Abou Zahr

The accords were signed on behalf of the Kingdom by the CEO of the Saudi Space Commission, Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi. Saudi Arabia is the 21st country to sign up to the agreement. The accords offer new opportunities for the country’s space industry and research sector, as well as enabling active contribution to Artemis’s activities. These activities include the return of humans to the moon’s surface by 2025. It is a strong commitment that anchors Saudi Arabia in the future development of the moon ecosystem and encourages a new path of international collaboration between the public and private sectors.

It is important as, in order for the space economy to thrive and reach its expected trillion-dollar value by 2040, we need to maintain peace and stability in space. The Artemis Accords are a key part of securing and promoting objectives for the greater good of humanity. They are also an important framework for the creation of this prosperity. The lawlessness and bullying actions that we witness on Earth cannot and should not be reproduced in space. Space is not just a place that starts 100 km from Earth, it is a mission. A mission for greater goals and a way to unite people for significant attainments.

A new model for space activities is being created: making space accessible for all. This is unlocking the commoditization of space. And so, even when it comes to tourism that is viewed as entertainment for billionaires, the day will come when it is available to all. And people will indeed go on vacation on the moon and enjoy a beautiful view of planet Earth without the need for the freight of food or goods from Earth, as the moon will have become self-sufficient.

The GCC and Saudi Arabia have an important part to play when it comes to space and they can be among the key stakeholders. First of all, it is a question of sovereignty. If the region does not claim its rightful share, this puts the entire region at risk. Therefore, it is important to collaborate with friends and allies to build up local capacities. Secondly, space is a key component of the diversification of the economy and will bring opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs.

• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

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