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An important issue facing further space exploration and the ambitious goal of colonizing Mars is whether the world will have the workforce needed to achieve it.
In the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) represents only a fraction of the overall aerospace workforce and must compete directly with numerous other government agencies, industry and academia for appropriately skilled workers. Attracting and retaining an adequate workforce poses a fundamentally difficult challenge.
Additionally, over the last few years, the average age of NASA’s workforce has marched steadily upwards—a natural trend for a well-established Space Agency valuing experience. The agency now has a relatively low number of younger workers to assume future leadership as older workers retire; risking a gap in technical leadership and in technical experience as highly skilled workers with experience in the different programs retire.
This is where educational institutions can step in to build a space workforce for the future and where Khalifa University is leading the way.
“Khalifa University has identified space as a core area of R&D development,” said Dr. Steve Griffiths, Senior Vice President for Research and Development at Khalifa University. “Space technology and space science are areas we aim to develop as part of our R&D strategy. The goal is to establish education and research programs that align directly with the aims of the UAE Space Agency for the development of space technologies, as well as the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) for the development of capabilities that support the UAE efforts in space science.”
Khalifa University launched the Msc concentration in Space Systems and Technology in 2015 jointly with Yahsat and Northrup Grumman (originally Orbital ATK). As part of the concentration, students undertake a series of three lab courses carried out in KU’s YahSat Space Laboratory, which is the first of its kind in the region with the capability to design, build and test small satellites.
At KU, linking graduate education with industry needs to ensure students get both classroom understanding and hands-on training, is very important.
Students have been working in collaboration with the UAE Space Agency and MBRSC for both satellite technology development and satellite data analysis. Students helped develop MYSAT-1, the first CubeSat developed by Khalifa University that was launched into space on 17 November, 2018, and is expected to stay in orbit until 2021. And a new team of students is now working on MYSAT-2.
With the UAE’s commitment to reaching Mars in 2021 and developing its space-related sectors, these students are sure to be among the pioneering scientists and engineers whose achievements will inspire the next generation of Emirati youth to reach for the stars.