We would like to jointly participate with Russia in space exploration missions - Russian View

Well-known journalist Jameel Altheyabi asked questions for RV to His Highness Dr. Turki bin Saud bin Mohammad Al Saud, President of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

We would like to jointly participate with Russia in space exploration missions

Dr. Turki bin Saud bin Mohammad Al Saud

Your Highness, In January, 2015 you were appointed as the President of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). But in addition you serve as Chairman of the Supervisory Committee for the National Science and Technology and Innovations Plan (NSTIP), Chairman of the Supervisory Committee for King Abdullah Initiative for Solar Water Desalination, Chairman of the Supervisory Committee for Technology Incubators. The list can be continued. Is it hard to be a top innovator of the Kingdom?

The Kingdom has a long-term vision for science, technology and innovation to transform it from a resource-based economy into a knowledge-based economy with a globally competitive innovation system. The Kingdom is pursuing this vision with solid commitment. Stimulated by this vision, KACST has initiated efforts in multiple technology domains to enhance the development of a national innovation ecosystem, setting up the necessary infrastructure throughout the country in support of Saudi born innovation and the incubation of successful technology ventures. We have a long road ahead of us, but I believe that we have taken great strides in the right direction. These are truly exciting times in the Kingdom.

During the visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, by the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, KACST has signed a memorandum of intent which includes cooperation with the Russian Space Agency on space exploration and using space for peaceful purposes. That implies participation of Saudi Arabia in space missions. Will Saudi astronauts take part in such missions? 

Certainly we would like to see our astronauts take part in space missions. Space and Aeronautics is one of the areas where KACST has invested greatly in developing its infrastructure and human capital, and we are proud of what we have achieved so far. We have a plan to expand our efforts in Space and Aeronautics technology development to promote local space industry.

In our cooperation with RSA we intend to strengthen and expand the bilateral exchange of knowledge and expertise in space exploration technologies. For example, we would like to jointly participate with RSA in space exploration missions to discover other planets within our solar system. We also hope to have our Saudi Arabian astronauts train and participate in future space manned missions. In addition, we hope to jointly develop with RSA space systems and applications related to space science.

As it is stated in St. Petersburg, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is interested in Russia’s participation in the establishment of the foundations of the space industry and the formation of a national space program. How do you see Russia’s participation in these projects?

The Russian Space program has been known for its great achievements in space, starting from the first ever satellite “Sputnik” in 1957. The Russian program has very promising future activities to explore space on manned and unmanned missions. We are sure that the joint participation and cooperation on the peaceful utilization of space will result in the enrichment of our understanding of space and a better understanding of many phenomena that affect us all.

Could you tell us more about the KACST activities?

By 2030, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is envisioned to be a knowledge society with a prosperous, diversified, and knowledge-based economy that is driven by private enterprises, provides high standard of living, and leads at the regional and global levels. To achieve this vision, KACST has embarked on a twenty year National Science and Technology and Innovation Plan. This Plan is divided into four phases, the first of which was completed by the end of 2014 and was focused on establishing the infrastructure of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in the Kingdom.

The second five-year phase addresses a challenging agenda for promoting innovation in the country and developing strategic initiatives for funding research and development that lead to successful commercialization. This agenda requires proactive approaches to strengthen collaboration among stakeholders including academia, R&D, industry, government and investment entities. To accomplish these goals, KACST is promoting the diversification of the Saudi national economy by linking research outputs with companies in order to leap towards industrial diversification.

What are the technology priorities for the Kingdom?

We at KACST believe that the Kingdom’s priority sectors include those that support national objectives or self-reliance on one hand, and leadership on the other.

Sectors of special focus are those characterized by large parts of national investment such as Life science and health or security and defense, as well as ICT. These are seen as essential sectors to enable competitiveness and growth. Self-reliance in these sectors is a national objective.

On the other hand, other sectors of special interest are those where the Kingdom has a competitive advantage such as: Material science, Energy and Water technology. In these sectors, the Kingdom can achieve leadership globally.

Your Highness, You received your PHD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University, USA. Where do you prefer to study the current younger generation of Saudi Arabia: at home or abroad?

Developing and preparing human resources in all fields and at all levels is among the main thrusts of the Kingdom’s transformation to a knowledge-based economy. Human resources development is among the strategic programs of the National science, Technology & Innovation Plan that aims to increase the Kingdom‘s rank in science and technology by taking advantage of investment in higher education. KACST has initiated a number of programs to ease this transition for potential Saudi researchers by exposing them to cutting-edge research before they pursue doctoral studies. One such flagship program is the Advanced Training Program (ATP), which involves training of young Saudi researchers through partnerships with top academic and industrial institutions, in order to develop their expertise and research skills. Researchers who complete the training program develop a strong repertoire of research and analytical skills, allowing them to become highly competitive candidates for admission in graduate programs at top-tier universities around the world.

We also believe that Russia has many prestigious top universities (such as Moscow State University) that we look forward to cooperate with. Furthermore, KACST has researchers who have graduated from Russian universities.

While we believe that studying at top universities worldwide is very important for knowledge transfer, we also believe that we need to support our national universities in the Kingdom which have improved tremendously and have contributed many innovations with positive impact on industry.

What are the impressions you have taken from Russia?

I was very impressed with the sophistication of the average Russian. I find that Russians are well-educated and are more knowledgeable than their counterparts in other advanced societies. No wonder, Russians have greatly contributed to all fields of science and technology. I was also impressed by how Russians show great respect and appreciation for the Kingdom and its culture. This has led me to believe that there is great potential for collaboration on all fronts.

King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) announced it manufactured several kinds of pilotless aircrafts. For what purpose you operate it? Have you signed any contracts with domestic or foreign entities for that purpose? 

KACST has developed different types of unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV). The aircrafts have been tested and used by various entities in Saudi Arabia and KACST plans to start their commercial production through Taqnia Aeronautics Company.

How many satellites have launched into orbit by Saudi Arabia?

KACST has built and launched a total of 13 satellites for the application of Remote sensing, communication and space science. Last year we launched Saudisat-4 from the Yasni launch site in Russia which carries a scientific payload built jointly with NASA and Stanford University to do an experiment on charge management using UV-LED to test a gravitational sensor. We plan to launch two satellites next years for remote sensing applications.

KACST has carried out research on Haj and Omra (small pilgrimage), including crowd management and various Haj-related activities. What activities are you working on in these areas?

KACST always tries to bring the latest technologies and innovations to address and improve services during pilgrimage season (hajj). Hajj (Pilgrimage) is the most crowded gathering for Muslims on earth.

In cooperation with the Saudi Red Crescent, KACST has provided aerostats attached with long range cameras to enhance Security moni­toring. Five aerostat systems were deployed during hajj, three in Mina and one in Arafat. The fifth one was installed at a Hajj entry point in cooperation with the Highway Security Department to avoid Infiltrators during the Hajj season.

Recently, we have utilized the latest technology in wireless broadband and electronics to develop an RFID based system to help in crowd management during hajj. In this system, a wristband RFID tag that can be worn at all times is provided to each pilgrim. This tag has some information about the pilgrim and when scanned by an RFID reader the information stored in the tag can be retrieved and displayed on a handheld portable unit. You could then have the pilgrim personal details, medical condition, contact information, location, etc.

You signed memos of understanding with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva as well as IBM, Boeing, and others? What is the nature of the projects KACST is engaged in with these institutions?

Our cooperation with CERN was to allow Saudi scientists to participate in high level fundamental science researches and to be part of the CERN scientific activities such as the CERN’s Summer Student program, long-term visitors, workshops and trainings and postgraduate students. In particular, Saudi scientists participated in the ATLAS Collaboration in the study team of a superconducting proton linac.

In addition, KACST created the Joint Centers of Excellence Program (JCEP) to conduct basic research via partnerships with some of the leading and most prestigious academic institutions such as MIT, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge; as well as industrial establishments such as IBM and Boeing among others around the world. Joint research activity is carried out in fields of science and technology targeted by the National Science, Technology and Innovation Plan, thus helping to enhance the quality of research and the outputs of intellectual property.