Morocco’s Satellite Launch Will Further US Commercial Space Exploration

In the middle of the night  of November 21st,, Morocco will be celebrating its new earth observation satellite, Mohammed VI-B, which will launch from French Guyana on November 21st, a little over a year after the launch of its first satellite, Mohammed VI-A. The event also falls on a major holiday, the two-day celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. This extremely advanced civilian satellite will be piloted from Morocco, hosting sophisticated technological capabilities which include the ability to take images in less than 24 hours with a resolution of up to 70 cm. It will complement the first Moroccan satellite, and improve the speed of coverage of areas of interest.

Both satellites will be managed in an identical way by Moroccan engineers and other technical personnel trained specifically for the management of these satellites both in Morocco and abroad. They represent an important aspect of the Moroccan Renaissance – a phenomenon of merging rapid technological developments to advance the country’s competitive role in the contemporary commercial space, with the resurgence and integration of its ancient and diverse culture in the modern context.

The satellites are just one part of an ambitious commercial space program that King Mohammed VI has inaugurated in conjunction with other projects to progress the country’s role as the modernizing leader in Africa. These projects include building the largest solar power plant in the world , the rise of the tallest edifice on the continent, and the expansion of English language education in schools , which will provide young professionals with the invaluable diversification of skills to do business with English-speaking Western countries. At the same time, Morocco is enjoying the revival in interests of its ancient Muslim-Jewish cultural tradition through music festivals, the rise of joint cultural activities exploring the country’s complex heritage on campuses and a rising number of tourists attracted by the King’s ongoing restoration of Jewish heritage sites, including 167 cemeteries and many synagogues, some of which are still functional.

Morocco’s technological and cultural breakthroughs bode well for its diplomatic outreach efforts throughout the continent, as well as a strong interest in strengthening relationships beyond its traditional European alliances and forging a closer friendship with the United States, taking its contacts beyond defense and security collaboration and slowly rising tourism, towards cultural bridge building, people-to-people outreach, and joint work on educational programming, artistic exchanges, and scientific research.  Morocco’s assertive technological progress is also responsive to the increased demand in globalized business networks. The satellite is just one example of the opportunities for promising joint efforts in a variety of fields. Mohammed VI-B boasts impressive capabilities in such wide ranging areas as the cadastre and cartography, providing  aptitude for the topographic mapping of the entire nation’s territory, and assorted agricultural uses – such as the survey of farmlands, diagnosis of the state of cultivation to optimize farming performances, irrigated zone mapping, water resource identification towards more efficient management and much more.

The satellite will also be useful in building, public works, and transportation achievements, such as inspection of art works, monitoring of construction progress, and optimization of various routes. It will also comes in handy in taking forestry to the next level, such as forest species mapping and inventory updates, in mining and geology through mapping of various geological deposits,  geological structure analysis, and facilitation of mine exploration. It will facilitate and upgrade the use of communications networks through establishing  updated cartographic backgrounds of the visualization of road and rail networks.

The satellite will assist in the monitoring of major projects, urban and land use planning – such as monitoring the evolution of urban and peripheral areas, assist in the fields of oceanography and coastal areas, such as providing for a more efficient management of oceonographic areas.  Mohammed VI-B will play a central role in the prevention and  response to the effects of natural disasters, and on the security front, the satellite will be used to enhance border security, prevention of illegal immigration, and other types of surveillance necessary to counter the effects of illicit activity of local organized crime networks, counterterrorism, and other security issues, in which Morocco is playing a leading role in Africa, while playing an indispensable partnership role to the United States in intelligence gathering and countering violent extremism. Effective collaboration with Morocco on satellite surveillance can assist the United States with developing a more effective and less controversial response to concerns about its border security as well as that of its neighbors, while while also helping gather accurate information about human rights issues, such as the effects of cartels and other organized crime enterprises on population transfers.

Finally, Morocco’s achievement could be an important asset to US interest in commercial space exploration. Whether NASA or another agency ultimately becomes the governing body over that issue, there is clear interest in finding and optimizing space opportunities beyond defense issues and international rivalry. Senator Ted Cruz, in particular, authored a bill that would streamline commercial space regulations, facilitating entrepreneurship. He proposed a measure that would extend US control of the International Space Station until 2030, which differs from the administration’s position on this issue. For years, he had championed human space exploration. Potential collaboration with friendly countries over an assortment of civil issues that could leader to better approaches and more and better paying jobs for Texans and their partners could further push back against the boundaries of space related programming that have potential to generate excitement and advance an entire field of studies, careers, and partnerships.

In fact, one potential positive outcome  is creating a collaborative environment that brings together best minds from all over the world to study and develop beneficial initiatives such as joint space traffic management of the rising space tourism, to maximizing opportunities for private business ventures related to scientific research in space. Indeed, shortly after these moves, NASA has announced that it is seeking proposals for commercial space partnerships. At the same time, last year, the National Space Council brought a new tone to the discussion, underscoring the importance of international partners and the value they bring to the US space program. Although the particular meeting focused on traditional defense alliances, the opportunities arising from private public partnerships and the expansion of opportunities for civil use of space programming promises to add another dimension to existing relationships, as well as new angles for collaboration for growing alliances.  Discussions of innovative uses in the civil sector included addressing health care issues, sustainable fishing, and disaster response to vulnerable communities. Morocco’s potential leadership on its continent in that regard could also facilitate the strategic depth of its relationship in the United States, as an advancing technological country that has a lot to contribute to addressing global problems, not merely a project of economic development and inexpensive tourism.

Indeed, this is particularly a great motivator for the younger generations in both countries, as during the devastating onset of Hurricane Maria in the United States, which hit Puerto Rico particularly hard, University of Puerto Rico students envisioned an international partnership for space cooperation that would have assisted in disaster monitoring and relief. The particular vision, “Connecting the Space Economy” envisioned a 30 year program of multiple satellites in space integrated for a wide variety of purposes. Could Morocco be part of that program? At the very least, it would give a generation of young Moroccans, many of whom, concerned with the economic opportunities, are leaving the country in search of more lucrative offers abroad, motivation to work in this sector and to invest their efforts at home. Young talented people long for vision, for possibility to contribute productively, and to see their societies grow, improve, and prosper. Morocco’s technological revolution is taking the country in that direction – and will have a beneficial ripple effect on the rest of the region and the world.

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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