UAE announces manned spaceflight plans

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The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates has announced their plans to establish an astronaut corps that would fly on the manned spacecraft of other nations.

The first of those astronauts would fly by the end of 2021, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. “We have not decided on who will be flying us yet,” he said. “We do envisage that we partner up with all of the major space agencies, somehow and in some structure.”

There would be several options for the UAE to choose from, including Soyuz flights by Russia to the International Space Station and Shenzhou flights to a Chinese space station slated to be completed by the early 2020s. Other options include flights on commercial crew vehicles being developed by Boeing and SpaceX.

To me, the really exciting aspect of this is that the UAE is now a new customer looking for a means to get its people into space, which makes all those manned programs, including the American private companies, competitors for that business.



  • Edward

    I have been anticipating this type of announcement ever since Bigelow Aerospace announced that they intended to put commercial manned space habitats in orbit. It is why they offered an X-Prize for independent manned spacecraft.

    It is why I think that commercial manned space will be a big deal in the next decade.

    It is why ULA predicted 20 people will live and work in space in by 2021, rather than just the six on the ISS today, and 300 people by 2031. (7 minutes)

    Once other countries realize how inexpensive a manned space program can be, without the cost of developing their own rockets and spacecraft, Many more countries will announce similar astronaut corps.

    Hurrah to the UAE for leading the charge.

  • Anthony Domanico


    How have you been? I’m concerned that, in an effort to boost it’s soft-power, China is going to allow astronauts from other countries to fly for free and that is a price point US companies can’t compete with.

    I’m not sure where I saw that they are offering free rides to their future space station. Are you familiar with what I’m talking about? I’m sure China won’t be able to fly everyone that will want to go, but wouldn’t that shrink the market at least a little for US based companies? What incentive could we offer to foreign space agencies to make them more apt to pay us to fly their people? Money talks, but what could talk louder?

    I get your point that essentially buying the service from us is far cheaper than having to build all the hardware and do all the R&D, but it’s like trying to get muscles without working out. You can buy padding to make yourself look big and muscular but you haven’t gained any strength. Going to space will inspire the people, but it’s not nearly as beneficial to hitchhike on someone else’s spacecraft. Bad analogy but you get what I’m saying.

    I hope I’m wrong about that because the bigger the market the better our aerospace companies will fare and I really want to see Bigelow Aerospace (among many others) do well.

  • Anthony Domanico: I have not seen any stories whereby the Chinese are offering rides to their station for free, but I would not be surprised if they did so for political reasons, much like the Soviets did during the cold war, flying astronauts from various eastern bloc nations to score political points.

    Even so, China will not have room to fly every astronaut from every nation, considering that the UAE is not the only nation considering doing this. Iran has indicated an interest as have several African countries. I suspect that before long, the demand will exceed China’s ability to fill, and it will be possible for private companies to pick up the slack.

    Note too that China might be pressured by Russia to not offer these flights for free, since Russia sorely needs the business and the cash these kinds of flights bring it.

  • DJN

    Sometimes its not the price of the ticket but rather the destination. China can fly passengers for free all they want but where are they going to take them? A sardine can of a junior space station? Destinations like Bigelow would be far more valuable for those traveling to do work or research.

  • wodun

    Going to space will inspire the people, but it’s not nearly as beneficial to hitchhike on someone else’s spacecraft. Bad analogy but you get what I’m saying.

    IMO, its more important what they do in space once they get there. People can learn a lot by building and launching rockets but its not always applicable to other activities in space and it is incredibly expensive. It makes a lot of sense to skip the launch business part and get straight into space based activities.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico asked: “How have you been?

    Healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well … not so wealthy, and because I have had two of my wisdom teeth extracted, I am only a half wit.

    I’m concerned that, in an effort to boost it’s soft-power, China is going to allow astronauts from other countries to fly for free and that is a price point US companies can’t compete with.

    I am not familiar with that idea, but I am not very concerned about it. Governments tend to put limitations on what can and cannot be done. For instance, NASA requires that data from experiments done on the ISS be made public domain withing five years. This limits the ability of companies to keep as proprietary what they learn by using ISS.

    I also agree with Robert, DJN, and wodun. They make good points.

    I see advantages for Bigelow and other space habitat providers (e.g. Ixion and Axiom Space) to provide better service for companies and other governments.

    Bad analogy but you get what I’m saying.

    I get what you are saying, but not building your own rockets and spacecraft is similar to using airliners that were built in other countries. Plenty of countries are using other countries’ airliners for their own airline companies. It does not make them any less aviatic.

    Not spending resources on launchers and spacecraft allows other countries to specialize in other areas. Perhaps even getting a jump on American companies. The strength is not in the rocket but in the end product.

    Plenty of companies do very well just operating communication satellites or Earth observation satellites. Commercial weather satellites are being tried. Commercial manned habitats seem to be two or three years away. None of the companies doing these things builds launch rockets, and the newer companies that build launch rockets are not building satellites. It would be a waste of their resources for the new companies to try to compete with the current leaders in the launch industry.

    I am reminded of something that the president of Moon Express said to me (well, the audience, actually — I was in the audience), think of space companies like internet companies; not all of them make internet hardware, many use the internet to do business. Amazon and Yahoo come to mind.

    Several new companies are being created just to help pore through petabytes of Earth imagery in order to find what other companies want to know about the Earth. There was an article in which a modern slave ship was found and caught using satellite imagery.

    So far, space programs have revolved around launch hardware, but the future is full of promise as long as it is acceptable to bypass that expensive stage and go straight for the productivity.

    In the days of government contracts, the contractors often built launchers as well as payloads. In the commercial world, specialization wins the day. Change is coming. Or maybe it is already here.

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