Saudi Arabia is planning an 8 billion riyal ($2.1 billion) boost for its space programme by 2030 under an economic diversification plan that aims to attract foreign investment and create thousands of jobs for young Saudis.
The Saudi Space Commission (SSC), set up by a royal decree in late 2018 to stimulate space-related research and industrial activities, has finalised a plan for the government, expected to be revealed later this year, under which the sector's budget would receive an initial boost of 2 billion riyals.
"In the time where we live now, space is becoming a fundamental sector of the global economy, touching every aspect of our lives on Earth. Space business and space economy are expected to grow into the trillions of riyals as we go forward," Prince Sultan, the son of Saudi monarch King Salman, told Reuters in an interview.
"We believe there are a lot of opportunities that exist in the space sector and we, in Saudi Arabia, intend to tap these opportunities at all levels," added the 64-year-old royal, who flew aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery in 1985. He was the first astronaut from an Arab or Muslim country in space.
His duties onboard Discovery as a payload specialist included releasing the Arabsat satellite, which was a breakthrough in connecting the region with the rest of the world.
Saudi Arabia is a main founder and financier of the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat), launched in 1976, with a 37% stake.
Prince Sultan, who chaired the Saudi Commission on Tourism and Heritage for 18 years, said the kingdom aspired to become a global player in the space industry while advancing prospects for generations of Saudi.
The Saudi space sector's current return on investment is 1.81 riyal for every one riyal invested. This compares with a return of between 7 and 20 riyals for every riyal invested in the sector in advanced economies, according to SSC data.
SSC plans to sign agreements with international agencies in the United States, Russia, China, India and the UAE to boost cooperation, Prince Sultan said, without providing further details.