Critical innovations for sustainable practices on earth

10 FEB 2019
News Tech Trends

Under the theme ‘Industry Convergence: Accelerating Sustainable Development’, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week
(ADSW) 2019 gathered to explore how industries are responding to the digital transformation underway in the
global economy, which in turn is giving rise to new opportunities to address global sustainability challenges. With
this in mind, Masdar has produced the Future of Sustainability whitepaper report – in partnership with The
National – based on information provided by students, individuals, companies and governmental organisations
actively driving sustainability-related innovation across the planet.

A 2018 article written for the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week website by H.E. Dr Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid
Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space
Agency, considers the connection between space exploration and sustainability on Earth. In his piece, His
Excellency Al Falasi writes, “Some may wonder why a space agency, which focuses on furthering human
knowledge of the universe, is concerning itself with environmental protection. One of the biggest differences we
can make − whether on an individual or a global scale − is to improve efficiency in the way we use resources. By
reducing the amount we consume, we decrease both our net waste and emissions. Here, we have already
learned a great deal from space exploration, which requires highly efficient processes as a result of strict weight
limits applied during launches.”
His Excellency Al Falasi cites an example from the University of Kenitra in Morocco, of an organisation filtering
and purifying nearby groundwater supplies using techniques that were initially developed for recycling
wastewater into drinking water for astronauts. He says, through its far-reaching impact, the space sector
operates at the intersection of other key industries related to sustainability − from renewable energy and oil and
gas to logistics and construction. According to a 2017 article in The Ethicalist, the space technologies industry is
estimated to be worth around $300 billion globally and is growing by around 8% annually. The UAE’s
investments in space technologies have exceeded AED20 billion ($5.5 billion), with players including satellite
data and TV broadcast company Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (YahSat), mobile satellite
communication company Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications, and Earth-mapping and observation systems
DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2.

Dubai’s Mars City
In 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Ruler and Vice President and Prime
Minister of the UAE, announced plans to construct a Martian city in the desert. The project is part of the UAE
Mars 2117 Project, which sees the nation aiming to establish the first human settlement on the Red Planet by
According to a piece in The Ethicalist, the construction of the Mars Scientific City – where engineers aim to
replicate conditions on the Red Planet for research purposes – will be designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels
in partnership with Emirates scientists and engineers. It will be made up of a series of futuristic glass domes that
could house up to 600,000 people. The Mars colony plan is being implemented by the Mohammad bin Rashid
Space Centre, where scientists began preparing a 100-year plan for the project’s implementation in 2017.
According to government documents, “the centre’s plan will focus on preparing specialised national cadres and
developing capabilities in the fields of space science, research, artificial intelligence, robotics and advanced
space technologies”.
Specifically, the site will allow scientists to solve some of the technical problems that must be overcome for
colonists to survive on our neighbouring planet, and will act as an enormous living laboratory that will simulate
conditions Mars settlers will face. The city, which will be spread across 177,000 square metres (1.9 million

square feet), is set to cost around AED500 million ($137 million). Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid calls it “an
extraordinary national project”, one that will also be open to the public, once complete. Several other manned
missions to Mars are in place globally, but the UAE is among the top nine national investors in space sciences,
aiming to attract the world’s top space scientists, designers and engineers to develop the Mars 2117 Project.

The Hope Mars Mission and other UAE space achievements
In order for the UAE’s Mars 2117 Strategy to work, scientists and planners will also need data from the Red
Planet. That’s where the Emirates Mars Mission comes into play. The UAE developed the Hope space-exploration
probe mission to Mars, and it is set for launch in 2020. The nation hopes that the probe will reach Mars in 2021,
the UAE’s 50th anniversary.
According to The Ethicalist, the probe will study the atmosphere around Mars and design complex models to
predict the climatic conditions settlers will face. The Hope programme − the first space mission by an Arab-
Islamic country − will be managed by the UAE Space Agency with support from international partners. The data
collected by the car-sized probe will allow scientists to create a model of conditions on the planet’s surface, with
data shared freely with over 200 global academic and scientific organisations. Earth and Mars only align once
every two years. To take advantage of this proximity and reach the destination by the target date, the craft will
have to launch in July 2020 to reach Mars in 2021. As the UAE Space Agency states: “The UAE government sees
the Red Planet project as a turning point in the nation’s development. It will establish the space technology
sector as a key economic sector for years to come. The UAE aims to be among the top countries worldwide in
the field of space technology by the time the orbiter arrives at Mars in 2021.”
The UAE also launched MySAT-1, a small cube-shaped satellite (‘CubeSat’) built by students at the Khalifa
University of Science and Technology, in 2018 − just weeks after the first-ever Emirati-designed satellite,
KhalifaSat, was launched from Japan.
MeznSat is another UAE space project in the pipeline. According to the MeznSat website, UAE university
students are primarily involved in developing 3U CubeSat, which is being built and tested primarily to detect
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) concentrations. The project aims to offer the UAE space industry qualified, well-trained
graduates who have gained hands-on experience through projects like this. In addition, the CubeSat project
opens windows for advanced space-oriented research relevant to the UAE. In terms of sending people into
space, the ambitious UAE Space Agency aims to send the first Emirati astronaut to the International Space
Station in 2019.

A piece in Science Daily covers studies by the Botanical Society of America, with its researchers trying to
understand how plants respond to the space environment. This information is critical to successfully providing
fresh food to astronauts.
Science Daily reported on researchers who compared two methods of analysing which genes are expressed (the
‘transcriptome’) in plant tissue, specifically in the root tip. The results reveal how plants adapt to the
microgravity space environment and can help guide the research needed for the successful utilisation of plants
in future exploration initiatives. Both techniques – which are called RNA-Seq and microarray – quantify mRNA
transcripts, the intermediary molecule between genes and the proteins those genes encode. This provides a
wealth of information about how an organism is responding to environmental cues.