Saudi Arabia and DigitalGlobe Inc. signed agreement for establishing joint venture Company with Saudi government for developing six next generation observation satellites.
Saudi Arabia is still developing own space potential. After signing agreements with China (for developing Beidou infrastructure in Saudi Arabia) and Russia (cooperation in development of both countries' space programs), cooperation with private companies is next step in the way for increasing Saudi participation in space exploration. Joint venture with DigitalGlobe will give Saudi Arabia technology of designing and manufacturing modern optical observation satellites. Six satellites built with Saudi Arabia will be new generation spacecrafts combining small size with high resolution (around 80 cm) imaging payload. Agreement also describes roles of both partners. King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST - Saudi science institute) and Taqnia (Saudi Technology Development And Investment Company) will be responsible for build and launch of satellites. Taqnia will also possess half of satellites capacity (in Saudi Arabia region). DigitalGlobe is not new partner for Saudi Arabia; cooperation lasts quite long, but until now DigitalGlobe was only providing satellite imaging services for various purposes for Saudi Arabia. Key features of new satellites will be, in spite of operating in high resolution which became standard on the market, low cost and possibility of frequent revisiting target area. According to Jeffrey Tarr, chief executive officer of DigitalGlobe next gen small satellites could be key to success of DigitalGlobe, but only under these certain conditions:
"Small sat imagery alone is of limited value, but when you combine it with the … high-resolution, high-accuracy imagery that DigitalGlobe satellites uniquely offer, we’re able to unlock the potential of the technology,"
Market becoming more and more demanding nowadays and to remain a leader it is necessary to use of the opportunities that gives technology as much as possible. For Saudi Arabia partnership with DigitalGlobe will be undoubtedly a challenging task. Saudi authorities recently signed agreement with Lockheed Martin to build new facility for assembling satellites and for technology transfer during manufacturing two communication satellites for Arabsat (Arab space organization based in Saudi Arabia). In spite of that agreement present experience in developing own satellites is generally based on small communication satellites (Saudicomsat), remote imaging and science smallsats (Saudisat). Combination of Saudi money, Lockheed Martin technology and business experience and know-how of DigitalGlobe seems to be reasonable way for developing own space industry and space program. Surely for DigitalGlobe it is good way for providing necessary funds for improving own satellite fleet. Leaving for Saudi partner only 50% of satellites capacity limited only to small territory is not an equally profitable partnership, but profits from cooperation with DigitalGlobe should be far more worth than money for Saudi space industry.
On picture above You can see Mecca in Saudi Arabia on picture provided by DigitalGlobe.