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Why the UAE can become a major space tourism hub

When UAE resident Hamish Harding wanted to experience the thrill of a rocket flight and several minutes of zero gravity this past summer he had to fly 15 hours to the United States, and then drive several more hours to the desert of West Texas to fulfill his dream.

Imagine if Hamish, and thousands of other dreamers and adventurers from around the world, could have the same experience from here in the UAE. Imagine if the UAE were to build a space tourism hub, with launch facilities and runways, astronaut training centers and desert camps, entertainment, and hotel stays for family and friends.

Blessed with a suitable year-round climate, excellent air connections across the UAE’s 10 commercial airports that link two-thirds of the world’s population within an eight-hour flight, (Dubai International Airport is projected to receive 55.1 million passengers in 2022, up from 29.1 million in 2021) regional centres for business, education, culture and tourism, a world-class hospitality and entertainment industry, and a proud space pedigree, the country is an ideal location to create a global space tourism hub.

The global space tourism market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 37.1% from 2022 to 2030 to reach $8.67 billion by 2030. The UAE is well positioned to capture market share, open up a new market space, create new demand and diversify its tourism market even further. There are a range of space tourist services to choose from such as Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, as used by Hamish Harding, that launches from West Texas, or Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, when ready, that will offer suborbital flights also from the United States.

Other space tourist experiences offer high-altitude balloon rides to altitudes of 30-40 kilometers where passengers can see the vastness of space and the curvature of the Earth. These high-altitude balloon rides can be provided from anywhere on the planet.

All these space tourist activities could be experienced from the UAE as the country offers unique advantages that will allow it to tap into not just a lucrative market but also enhance its wider space ambitions.

First, the UAE is blessed with a suitable climate that allows space tourism flights to take place throughout the year, with the exception of a handful of days of inclement weather. Even in the Gulf’s uncomfortably hot and humid summers, the climate is amenable for space tourism flights.

Second, the UAE’s geographical position as an international air travel centre means that it can attract space tourists from Europe through to northeast Asia and all points in between. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are both within an eight-hour flight from London and Tokyo, making the country an excellent location for the space tourism hub of Eurasia.

Third, the country’s luxury hospitality and entertainment sector is ready-made to accommodate the high net-worth space tourist demographic. The hub can take advantage of the numerous luxury hotels, Michelin-star restaurants, exclusive shopping experiences, and world-class amenities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Much of the necessary infrastructure and amenities already exist.

Fourth, and lastly, in a remarkably short period of time the UAE has become one of the leading space powers in the world thanks to its investments in advanced satellite technologies, the successful Hope Mars mission of 2019, and its ongoing astronaut programme. In the coming years, the UAE intends to carry out an ambitious Venus flyby and a rendezvous with an object in the asteroid belt beyond the orbit of Mars using the same spacecraft. A space tourism launch site will allow the domestic space ecosystem to conduct microgravity research flights using capabilities designed for space tourism.

A world-class space tourism hub will further burnish the country’s reputation as an advanced global space power as well as the opportunity to become the destination of choice for space tourism operators, manufacturers, SMEs, start-ups, and hundreds of thousands of budding space tourists from around the world. – Anna Hazlett is the founder and principal partner at AzurX which specialises in space and strategic technologies.

– John B. Sheldon is a partner at AzurX.

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