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Defence Notes

UAE poised to develop space partnership with Russia

10th June 2021 - 16:56 GMT | by Leonid Nersisyan, Mikhail Kotov in Moscow & St Petersburg


The UAE is keen to accelerate the development of its nascent space sector. (Photo: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre)

The UAE is set to continue using Russian carrier rockets in its growing military space programme.

A pending joint agreement between Russia, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may mark the start of long-term space cooperation between the three countries, including in the military domain.

The agreement is still being drafted, but it is understood to include launchpad upgrades at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Russia currently uses Pad 31 to launch Soyuz rockets from Baikonur, while Gagarin’s Start is awaiting modernisation and will subsequently be used as a backup.

On 23 April, Kazakh aerospace industry minister Bagdat Musin said that the contract would be signed within a month, but this still had not happened at the time of publication.

According to Shephard sources in Russia, it is possible that the signing will take place on the sidelines of the International Conference on Space Exploration (GLEX-2021), to be held in St Petersburg on 14-18 June.

The UAE used the services of the French Guiana Space Centre in Kourou and the Russian Soyuz ST-A rocket (an export modification of Soyuz-2.1b) to launch its Falcon Eye reconnaissance satellite in December 2020.

It is unclear whether the signing of the agreement with Kazakhstan and Russia means that the UAE will continue to use Russian carrier rockets in its military space programme. However, the long-term conclusion of a cooperation agreement for the reconstruction and modernisation of the Gagarin launch could mean that the UAE MoD leans towards this option.

Negotiations between Russia and Kazakhstan on the modernisation of Site 1 have been underway for some time, but the UAE only joined in a few months ago. Baikonur is located in Kazakhstan and is leased by Russia.

Both countries are working on implementing the Baiterek rocket and space complex, which is proposed to be built based on the existing infrastructure for launching Zenit carrier rockets and to use it for the advanced Russian Irtysh (former Soyuz-5) rocket, the development of which is due to be completed by 2023.

Involvement by the UAE in the reconstruction of the Gagarin’s Start launchpad will give the Gulf country access to launch Soyuz-2 rockets. These are three-stage medium-class carrier rockets as a deep upgrade of Soyuz-U, used for launching spacecraft with a maximum payload weight of 9,200kg into low Earth orbit.

Soyuz-2.1a is the main rocket in the Russian manned programme; it is used to launch Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station.

It is worth noting that the UAE has dramatically strengthened its space programme on all fronts in recent years, and it is trying to cooperate simultaneously with both Russia and the US. In September 2019, the first UAE cosmonaut trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia travelled to the International Space Station on a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft.

However, in September 2020, news emerged that the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre chose NASA to continue training astronauts. Likewise, the Al-Amal unmanned interplanetary Mars exploration vehicle was built with the help of the US and launched from Tanegashima, Japan, using an H-IIA rocket in July 2020. 

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