SATELLITE INITIATIVES IN ABU DHABI

UAE, Abu Dhabi 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: ICT SERVICES

By increasing its array of satellites, the UAE is becoming less dependent on foreign providers when it comes to satellite imagery and ICT services.

On April 22, 2011, Abu Dhabi became part of an illustrious and exclusive group that has successfully launched a satellite into space. Yahsat 1A became Abu Dhabi's first operational space vehicle, weighing in at 6,000 kilograms and sporting a power capacity of 15,000 W. It was sent up on an Ariane 5. Yahsat 1A was built by EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space, which both had the responsibility of prime-contractor. Astrium was the lead on the turnkey delivery of the two-satellite project, while Thales Alenia Space was in charge of the launch vehicle. The satellite is based on the Eurostar E3000 satellite bus, a European-designed communications satellite also designed by Astrium. It carries a payload of Ku-, Ka-, and C-band transponders to provide communication to cover the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Southwest Asia. Yahsat 1A is in a geostationary orbit on a 15-year mission cycle and is operated by the communications company Yahsat.

To compliment Yahsat 1A and part of a $1.66 billion, two-satellite package with Astrium and Thales Alenia Space, Yahsat 1B was launched flawlessly a year later in April 2012. The new satellite was launched with higher specifications than its predecessor, but for much the same purpose of communications. Yahsat 1B has 25 commercial Ka-band transponders, but, unlike its predecessor, has 21 secure transponders for secure government and military communications. The Ka-band transponder utilizes multi-spot beam technology, which is a concentrated satellite signal concentrate to cover a limited area on earth to provide communications to its intended targets. Yahsat 1B will provide 61 of these spot beams to areas in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Southwest Asia.

These new satellites are all part of Abu Dhabi and the UAE's grand plan to diversify away from an oil-based economy. The government already holds a majority stake in Virgin Galactic, the first commercial space flight firm, as well as launching Yahsat in 2013, which is the Emirate's first communications satellite. Yahsat uses its satellite to offer consumers in 13 countries broadband internet services. “YahClick will be fully operational across all 28 markets in 2014," Masood M. Sharif Mahmood, CEO of Yahsat, explained to TBY. The company is targeting businesses, home users, NGOs, and governments in the Middle East, Africa, and South West and Central Asia.

Yahsat offers numerous services to both the public and private sector. YahSecure is a government service that provides secure and reliable satellite services on a military Ka-band width. YahClick offers high-speed broadband services using Yahsat 1B's Ka-band multi-spot beam technology. YahLink offers high-powered connectivity over its C-band coverage using a single beam over the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. YahLive is the company's broadcasting service using Ku-band. The final offering is YahService, which offers value-added services for users who require end-to-end, managed services.

The UAE is interested in expanding its array of satellites and has been in talks with France and the US over the purchase of two Pleiades-type Falcon Eye military intelligence satellites. The deal is expected to be worth around $930 million. In total, 11 countries were bidding to ship the system to the UAE, which in 2012 went to the French and the Americans. The system contains two satellites and a ground staff of 20 trained engineers. Under a deal signed in July 2012, the delivery of the system is set for sometime in 2018.