Young Omani reaching for the stars after Russian space research trip
September 5, 2018 | 9:01 PM
by Times News Service

Muscat: A young Omani woman has dreams of seeing Oman launch its first satellite in the near future, as the country looks to expand into the space sector.

Zainab Al Salhi, a graduate from the National University of Technology in the Sultanate, recently returned from Russia, having received a grant to study there from the St Petersburg Polytechnic University, where she learned from Russia’s top space scientists and researchers the advances that one of the world’s best space programmes has made.

Having visited space research labs and military academies during her time in Russia, Al Salhi is now collaborating with the Infrastructure Technical Services Company, an Omani firm that is actively looking to invest in the Sultanate’s space programme.

“The Russian space programme is among one of the most advanced in the world and they were among the first people to develop space flights,” recalled Al Salhi, in an exclusive interview with the Times of Oman.

“The Soviet Union was the first country to send a man to space and they also launched the first satellite into space, Sputnik; so there is a lot we can learn from them, since Oman is also looking at its own space programme.

“Oman is currently very interested in manufacturing its own satellites,” she added.

“A lot of people may not know this, but Oman has actually been exploring this for the last nine years. The Oman Astronomical Society is also setting up relationships with other space agencies that are conducting tests and experiments for space, because studies have shown that the geological structure of Oman is very similar to that of many planets.”

One of the prime examples of experiments carried out for the purpose of future space missions involves the recent AMADEE-18 Mars simulation missions that were carried out in the Dhofari desert last February by the Austrian Space Forum on behalf of the European Space Agency. Al Salhi worked on drafting plans for their simulation missions ahead of

their time.

While in Russia, she learned about the various jet propulsion techniques and investment opportunities available in the space sectors, as well as the use of other sources of energy such as plasma and nuclear fusion reactors.

“What we are going to do now is build relationships to see if we can bring this technology here to make it available,” Al Salhi said.

“The Russians are currently working on a delivery system to Mars that will reduce access to a month and a half, instead of the current 18-month period, by using nuclear energy instead of the current jet fuel system.”

Testing facilities

“There is now going to be joint cooperation with the Infrastructure Technical Services company in the areas of commercial interests such as material financing, simulation environments and the construction of large physical testing facilities, not just in Oman, but across the GCC as well,” she added.

“We must note that a lot of the materials produced are meant for the Russian terrain and climate, so they will need to be modified to work here.”

Al Salhi was previously also invited to study the benefits of nuclear physics with the Italian Space Agency last year, and was also the national point of contact for Oman’s Space Generation Advisory Council at the United Nations Programme on Space Applications.

She was also the country coordinator for LAZURD, an NGO that provided six young Arabs the chance to travel to the Indian Ocean to conduct space research.

“I have always been interested in physics and space research, because I wanted to do something different,” she said.

“I wanted to help develop my country in areas that have not been explored before, because it is important to always expand your horizons and continue to learn. We know that the situation in Oman will improve if we try new things. Every year, there are more than 5,000 students who graduate as engineers in Oman, for example, and today, there are many who are doing the same thing but I wanted to do something different” added Al Salhi.

“I have always been fascinated by exploring beyond what we know, and that is the advice I would give everyone. If you are passionate about something, do it, because that is the way you will grow.”

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to know all the latest news