Conference Design

When Astronauts Convened in Dubai

28th November 2022

Held at Dubai World Trade Centre 25-29 October 2021, the 72nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) was the first in-person IAC since the start of the pandemic, and it also marked history being the first IAC to be organized in an Arab country. Gathering more than 5,000 delegates from 110 countries – with an additional 1,500 participants during the Public Day – the event was themed ‘Inspire, Innovate and Discover for the Benefit of Humankind’.

Words Remi Deve

Created in 1951 to foster dialogue between scientists and to support international cooperation in all space related activities, the International Astronautical Federation, with more than 390 members, continues to this day to connect people working in space agencies, societies, associations, museums and institutes, through its yearly congress.

IAC was hosted by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), a Dubai government organization responsible for the UAE space program, which includes various space satellite projects, the Emirates Mars Mission, the Emirates Lunar Mission, and the UAE astronaut program. Eng. Adnan Alrais, Co-Chair for the Local Organizing Committee of IAC 2021, explains Boardroom the kind of legacy the Congress is leaving behind and how it was a showcase of Dubai’s pioneering steps in the space sector.

You hosted the IAC in October 2021: Why did it make sense to host this event in Dubai? 

The IAC 2021 came to the UAE at a fortuitous juncture: it followed closely on the heels of the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission (Hope Probe), the Arab’s first space exploration craft to Mars. The year of the event also marked the second anniversary of the return of the first Emirati astronaut from the International Space Station and the third anniversary of the launch of KhalifaSat — the first Earth-observation satellite to be produced wholly by Emiratis. These achievements are symbolic of the commencement of a new era in the region; the IAC 2021 became the opportunity to highlight how space science and technology contribute to a nation’s progress. 

IAC in numbers

5,000 delegates from 110 countries

Approx. 1/3 young professional – under 35

1,500 participants to the Public Day

1,400 technical papers

3,356 abstracts from 86 countries

140 exhibitors

A dedicated Next Generation and Outreach Program


IAC 2021 also followed a highly successful Space Week held at the Expo 2020 Dubai, which saw a stellar line-up of astronauts, astronomers, and space experts come together to discuss a wide gamut of topics. 

What has the event achieved according to you? 

Hosting IAC 2021 was a knowledge enrichment platform for the youth in the fields of space science and technology. It acted as an accelerator for STEM education, and was a source of enormous pride and inspiration for the next generations who are hoping to participate in the space sector. 

The legacy of IAC 2021 was felt across the region, and acted as a catalyst for other nations to establish space centres and agencies.

However, the impact of both the IAC 2021 being hosted in Dubai and the arrival of the Emirates Mars Mission – Hope mission in the same year sent a strong message that reached beyond the borders of the UAE. It illustrated that the Arabs have a significant impact in space, and that our contributions are respected and valued by international communities.

Space is a sector that is growing in the UAE, and, as a result of the increased activities, it’s now growing in the region too. To see an Arab nation hosting the IAC further calibrated this growth, as the world would see the impact the UAE is having after just over a decade of space activity. 

Can you explain how MBRSC serves as a pillar to drive the establishment of the knowledge economy and sustainable development in the UAE?

MBRSC is a scientific centre that specializes in space science and advanced technology. Launching ambitious projects, we work to develop generations of Emirati engineers according to the highest scientific standards. 

MBRSC is looking forward to contributing in ways that enrich human knowledge and support scientific development worldwide. The centre has strong ties with internationally influential organizations and is keen to establish relationships with space agencies and the world’s most prestigious universities and faculties that specialize in space science. 

MBRSC supports the country’s plans aimed at creating a new generation of Emirati expert engineers and researchers to hold leadership roles in establishing a knowledge-based economy. The centre has worked on achieving the UAE National Innovation Strategy and looks forward to positioning the UAE amongst the most innovative countries in the world within the space sector. We have also supported national plans to contribute to the progress of humanity and build a better world. 

Our vision is to be a leading, globally recognized centre in the field of space science technological innovation and advanced technology to enrich human knowledge. Our mission is to build a sustainable space science and advanced technology sector that contributes to establishing a knowledge-based economy, and to launch and implement advanced space projects and prepare a generation of Emirati scientists that take our country towards a brighter future. 

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