Saudi Arabia puts billions of dollars on the table for its space industry

The PIF Sovereign Wealth Fund has just formed the Neo Space Group company to attract satellite manufacturers from third countries 
La potente industria espacial de Estados Unidos es la primera interesada en hacer crecer el equivalente saudí que impulsa el príncipe heredero y primer ministro Mohamed bin Salman - PHOTO/AFP-Bandar Al-Jaloud-Palacio Real Saudí
The powerful US space industry is the first to be interested in growing the Saudi equivalent being pushed by Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman - PHOTO/AFP-Bandar Al-Jaloud-Royal Saudi Palace
  1. Riyadh has identified the space sector as promising
  2. Diversifying its sources of revenue

Saudi Arabia's crown prince and prime minister, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, has issued clear directives to his government team to take the necessary legislative and financial measures to give full priority to boosting its still fledgling national space industry.

But that is not all. In line with the Kingdom's Vision 2030 roadmap, the crown prince has also instructed his ministers of finance, Mohamed Aljadaan, and communications and information technology, Abdullah Al-Swaha, to provide all necessary support to the Neo Space Group (NSG), a national space development company recently established by the PIF, the country's Sovereign Wealth Fund.

According to the draft National Space Strategy, the final text of which is due to be published by the end of the year, NSG's raison d'être is to ‘provide state investment and promote private initiatives’, with the aim of encouraging the establishment of space industry and service-related SMEs throughout the country.  

The PIF, an institution somewhat comparable to Spain's State Industrial Holding Company (SEPI), but with a larger investment volume, wants NSG to become - as it openly states - the ‘national champion’ of the Saudi space sector. The Riyadh government wants to establish satellite manufacturers from third countries and innovative start-ups in the Arab nation, with the aim of gaining access to important commercial projects on a national and international scale. 

La biomédica saudí Rayyanah Barnawi fue la primera mujer de un país árabe en viajar al espacio. Llegó en mayo de 2023 a la Estación Espacial Internacional junto a su compañero Ali Al-Qarni, donde permanecieron 7 días - PHOTO/NASA-SSA
Saudi biomedical scientist Rayyanah Barnawi was the first woman from an Arab country to travel into space. She arrived in May 2023 at the International Space Station with her partner Ali Al-Qarni, where they stayed for 7 days - PHOTO/NASA-SSA

Riyadh has identified the space sector as promising

It does not matter whether the companies are from China, Russia, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, India, Korea or any other nation. It is all about boosting the Saudi space industrial fabric to diversify the economy and grow non-oil revenues. Riyadh has done so by creating NSG, the first company created by the PIF to invest billions of dollars in the space industry, a sector identified by the Saudi authorities as ‘one of the most promising from an investment and strategic point of view’. 

This is emphasised by PIF's co-director of Direct Investment for the Middle East and North Africa, chemical engineer Omar Al-Madhi, for whom forming the NSG company ‘is a milestone of Saudi Arabia's growing role in the cosmos, highlighting our ambition to be a major commercial player on the global satellite scene’. 

El vicepresidente de la Agencia Espacial Saudí (SSA), Mohamed Al-Tamimi, suscribe un acuerdo de colaboración con el director ejecutivo de la Agencia Espacial de Egipto (EgSA), el profesor Sherif Sedky - PHOTO/SSA-SPA 
The Vice President of the Saudi Space Agency (SSA), Mohamed Al-Tamimi, signs a collaboration agreement with the Executive Director of the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA), Professor Sherif Sedky - PHOTO/SSA-SPA 

NSG's multi-million dollar activities and investments are focused on four business areas: satellite communications, satellite navigation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Earth observation. The four areas are complemented by a venture capital fund, which will focus on supporting domestic and foreign entrepreneurs betting on space assets. 

Two government agencies will escort NSG's new activities and investments. One is the Saudi Space Agency (SSA), which is responsible for scientific, robotic and manned exploration activities in outer space. The other is the Communications, Space and Technology Commission, which regulates terrestrial and satellite telecommunications.  

El presidente Sánchez viajó a Yeda en abril y mantuvo un encuentro con el heredero Mohamed bin Salman. Hasta la fecha, la Agencia Espacial Española y la Saudí no mantienen lazos de cooperación - PHOTO/Pool Moncloa-Borja Puig de la Bellacasa
President Sanchez travelled to Jeddah in April and held a meeting with the heir Mohamed bin Salman. To date, the Spanish and Saudi Space Agencies have no cooperative ties - PHOTO/Pool Moncloa-Borja Puig de la Bellacasa

Diversifying its sources of revenue

It is worth remembering that the ultimate aim of the Vision 2030 initiative promoted by Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, now in his early 40s, is to do everything possible to balance the nation's revenue sources in the shortest possible time.  

The Kingdom is undergoing a progressive productive reform driven by the crown prince's determination to move away from exclusive reliance on oil exports, bring about a substantial change in the balance of the national economy and provide high-skilled jobs for its young population. Institutions such as the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST) have developed satellites - for example, the 425-kilogram SaudiSat 5A and 5B, which were launched from China in December 2018.

Las relaciones entre los altos mandos de las Fuerzas Armadas Reales Saudíes y del Mando Central de Estados Unidos son muy estrechas, dado que la nación árabe es el principal aliado árabe en la región - PHOTO/USAF-Eric Dietrich
Relations between the senior commanders of the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and the US Central Command are very close, given that the Arab nation is the main Arab ally in the region - PHOTO/USAF-Eric Dietrich

The NSG company was born to attract strategic industries and accelerate the take-off of the space industrial fabric, whose turnover in 2022 was only $400 million. Data from the latest World Bank report forecasts Saudi real GDP growth of 2.5% in 2024 and around 5.9% in 2025, so Riyadh's target for 2030 is to reach $2.2bn turnover, the reason for creating NSG. 

However, Saudi Arabia is geographically located in the Arabian Peninsula, an area of great geostrategic importance and framed in a region with a conflict that is sometimes latent and at other times it surfaces, as is the current case. The main ally of the United States in the region, the Riyadh government pays special attention to its national security and defence component, whose industrial sector has also been classified as strategic and, of course, enjoys the Crown Prince's utmost attention and priority.