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Space and Aeronautics


KACST seeks to strengthen the Kingdom’s position in the field of Space and Aeronautics by cooperating with international agencies and centers on establishing advanced infrastructure, transferring technologies, and developing human capital.



Since its establishment in 2000, the Space and Aeronautics Research Institute has been engaged in the localizing of various Space and Aeronautics technologies through its national centers that specialize in aeronautics technology, satellites technology, jet engines technology, astronomy, geodesy and navigation, and remote sensing.

In the field of aeronautics technology, KACST began an industrial technical alliance with the Ukrainian company Antonov and the Saudi Taqnia Aero Co. This alliance aims at transferring technology of use in the aircraft industry through developing, manufacturing and producing the multi-purpose Antonov 132 airplane.

The Satellite Center leads the national strategy of localizing the satellite industry in the Kingdom, by investing in building infrastructure and qualifying local human capital. The center provides end to end solutions starting from its mission requirements and design, to the development of essential satellite systems such as payloads, controls, communications and power systems.

The National Jet Engine Center focuses on the localization of jet engine technologies, including engine capacities, sizes and speed, that are designed according to their future application use.

The National Center for Astronomy seeks to achieve the vision of KACST in conducting research, studies, and in the development of astronomical applications that serve the needs of the Kingdom, such as the determination of lunar months, the study of solar activity and its monitoring, the interference between solar winds and the earth’s magnetic atmosphere, and studies on the impact of magnetic storms on communications, electricity networks and geographic positioning systems.


KACST inaugurated the first lightweight multi-purpose aircraft, Antonov (AN-132) in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine on Tuesday, the 20th of December 2016, under the patronage of His Excellency Pietro Borchenko the President of Ukraine, His Highness Dr. Turki bin Saud bin Mohammed Al-Saud, the President of KACST, and a number of officials from the Kingdom and the Republic of Ukraine.

The aircraft is capable of flying at 28,000 feet with a load of 9.2 tons, for a distance of 4,500 km at a maximum speed of 550 km per hour. Engineering studies were conducted to provide the aircraft with Pratt and Whitney PW 150A engines, advanced electronic and navigation systems, and many other modern systems that ensure high performance and quality standards to reach international markets.

The launch comes thanks to the technical alliance concluded by KACST with Antonov as part of its initiatives in the 2020 National Transformation Program to achieve the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision. KACST owns 50% of the intellectual property of this aircraft.

Antonov is known for its extensive experience in manufacturing large-scale aircrafts for various applications. Therefore, Antonov experts were chosen to train young Saudi cadres to gain experience and develop and refine their skills and potentials. This agreement will allow the two parties to open new horizons for continued cooperation.

The aircraft production will be in parallel in both the Kingdom and Ukraine, and Saudi engineers and technicians along with their Ukrainian counterparts will participate in production lines.

Taqnia, together with KACST and Antonov, are working on transferring, and localizing technology and establishing infrastructure for the local aircraft industry to develop manufacturing capabilities. They will cooperate with specialized Saudi government-owned and private-sector companies. This cooperation will enable them to reduce procurement, training, operation and aircraft maintenance costs besides raising the aircraft manufacturing technical knowledge level and providing many job opportunities for young men and women in the Kingdom.

In the second quarter of 2017, the Kingdom’s citizens will witness the first Saudi-Ukrainian plane flying over the country.

The objective of this project is to transfer the technology for the turbofan jet engine TKF-500, and to indigenize in cooperation with the foreign partner.

The project aims to study the design and manufacture of turbofan jet engines, and to train Saudi nationals. The project consists of several stages: development, design, manufacturing, assembly, and testing. The engine is used in several applications such as private and small aircraft, UAV, and guided missiles. The reason for selecting this engine is that it has advanced technical specifications:

  • Thrust up to 545 Kgf (5.35KN).
  • The overall engine pressure rate is 8:1.
  • Engine dimensions: length 1.4 m, diameter 40 cm.
  • Total weight is 99.2 kg.
  • The speed is greater than 0.9 times the speed of sound, while the maximum number of cycles is 27000 RPM.
  • The engine is capable of operating under difficult operating conditions, where the temperature is between 40 to 55 degrees Celsius.

The purpose of this project is to enhance the engineering capabilities of KACST researchers, excel in design, control performance, and developing the Engine Control Unit (ECU).

Specifically, the goal is to design a compressor and a perfect diffuser that increases the engine’s reliability and performance. It also includes a control system with high specifications that allows for turning off the power supply from the engine before the completion of the engine calming process. After the engine is calmed, the control system will turn off by itself.

The TK-200 engine is a turbojet engine with a 230N (23.5 kgf) thrust. It is designed for small air vehicles with up to 20kg weight such as the unmanned air vehicles, air targets and precision-guided missiles.

The main technical specifications of the engine are:

  • Maximum thrust: 230N.
  • Maximum RPM: 112000 RPM.
  • Weight: 2.37 kg.
  • Dimensions: Length 350 mm، Diameter 132 mm.

The objective of this project is to gain the ability to produce turbojet engines, allowing self-sufficiency for this type of engines, as well as for other types.

Specifically, this project aims to develop the TK-80 Jet Cat small turbojet engine and manufacture it locally. The TK-80 Jet Cat engine has 97N thrust power and is designed for small air vehicles weighing between 8–15 kg, such as Unmanned Air Vehicles, air targets and precision-guided missiles.

Similar to other small turbojet engine, the TK-80 consists of an air intake, radial compressor, annular combustion chamber, axial turbine and output nozzle. The main technical specifications for this engine are:

  • Maximum thrust: 97N (9.9 kgf).
  • Maximum RPM: 125000 RPM.
  • Weight: 1.36 kg.
  • Dimensions: Length 300 mm, Diameter 112 mm.

The goal of this project is to develop a high fidelity computational technology that has the capability to accurately model and simulate the aerodynamic performance of micro air vehicle designs in the presence of atmospheric disturbance with verification procedures.

This software design allows for the study of air vehicle dynamics during wind gust disturbances, as well as the comparison with experimental results and real time tests. In addition, the design of aerodynamic perturbations, improved understanding of dynamic behavior for fixed and flapping wing movements that have high efficiency requirements for vehicle specifications. The software requires a high powered computing facility that will allow for quick solving of complex mathematical equations that describe the aerodynamic air flow, this can be achieved through the support of super computers that currently exists at KACST (SANAM) and at Stanford University. We have studied design variations with simulation models to obtain a higher precision and meet the project objectives.

This project aims to study the factors that cause stall-spin dynamic behavior for Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) by analyzing the aerodynamic data measurements during complex maneuvers. Different types of sensors and measurements are implemented to better enhance the knowledge and the analysis of the behavior of UAVs when entering stall or spin modes. Experimental flight tests are executed to allow for system identification techniques and control design methods. Measured data such as pressure sensors are distributed on the vehicle structure, which are then analyzed and employed for aerodynamic modeling purposes. When the causes of the stalls and spins are pre-determined, automatic recovery schemes are developed to prevent UAVs from entering such a mode and hence keeping UAVs safe. Consideration of accident avoidance using altitude loss as a metric of prevention are novel in the approach and implementation. During the project, the causes of entering stall and spin modes were identified in better accuracy and automatic recovery control systems were developed.

This project aims to develop a highly reliable satellite platform that is capable of hosting various payloads. This can be achieved through development and qualification of the main subsystems at KACST’s test facilities and then by launching them in certain missions. This approach enables manufacturing reliable satellites with lower costs and shorter lead-time.

The first outcome was the launch of SaudiSat-4 in 2014 with the UV-LED scientific experiment payload developed by NASA and Stanford University. The mission has been achieved successfully from KACST’s ground station, and the experiment’s data has been received and analyzed by the joint research team.

In 2016, the research team published the results in a paper, and published others detailing the nature of the payload and its thermal design and how it was achieved by the spacecraft.

In the same year, the engineering team upgraded several subsystems of the platform after carefully analyzing their performance in space. The upgraded systems will be used in future missions that KACST intends to launch soon.

KACST is working on enhancing national capabilities to develop advanced satellite systems to serve national needs and to conform with the strategic plans to localizing of this industry. These efforts include upgrading facilities and infrastructures to develop, manufacture, test and operate satellites of larger scales and with more advanced capabilities.

In 2016, the Advanced Manufacturing Workshop was relocated to its permanent facility at KACST’s campus along with commissioning new design, QA and simulation labs. The workshop is now capable of manufacturing advanced structures made of various materials.

At the same time, new clean rooms with ISO8 and ISO7 standards have been commissioned at KACST’s main AIT building, to establish the following labs: Satellite Subsystems Integration and Test Labs, Electronic Systems Staking and Conformal Coating Labs, Thermal Paining Labs for Satellite Structures, and Extended Satellite AIT Labs.

KACST is also building state-of-the-art environmental test facilities that are capable of managing big satellites with a mass up to 5 tons. In 2016, all civil works for the new ETF have been completed. The electro-Magnetic compatibility Chamber has been installed inside the building along with the Thermal Vacuum Chamber. Also, the factory acceptance tests for the vibrations system and the mass properties measurement system have been carried out successfully and both systems will be installed in mid-2017. With such facility, KACST will have a comprehensive lab for any kind of environmental testing that could serve satellite development needs as well as other industries that require such capabilities.

On the ground station side, a complete upgrade plan has been commissioned with the vision to have an advanced ground station that is capable of operating a constellation of satellites simultaneously, efficiently and securely with its high-speed communication systems as well as the mission control system as more satellites are launched in the future. The factory acceptance tests for two antennas and civil works for their installation have been completed. Commissioning and full operations of the advanced ground station are planned for mid-2017.

The main purpose of Saudi GeoSatellite-1 (SGS-1) system is to provide secure satellite communications to several public and private organizations in the Kingdom, on Ka-Band frequency at geostationary orbital position 39° East. The SGS-1 system consists of the space segment, the satellite, the ground segment, the gateways, network operations center, and the data centers.

The space segment has been designed with a 15 years lifetime to carry multi-beam payload including two steerable beams. The payload has a 34 Gbps capacity covering the GCC, Middle East and North Africa (MENA Region) and Southern Europe.

In April 2015, Lockheed Martin was contracted to manufacture the SGS-1 satellite. The project is being managed by a joint team from the Space and Aeronautics Research Institute and the Information and Communication Research Institute at KACST. The team has representatives from user organizations from different government agencies. There is direct involvement in the day-to-day work by KACST’s resident engineering team at Lockheed’s facilities. Another engineering team is also working at Lockheed’s laboratories on the assembly, integration and testing in preparation of the new satellite that will be launched in 2018 with Arian-5.

For the SGS-1 satellite, the preliminary and critical design phases have been completed and 80% of the subsystems have been manufactured and received. The satellite structure is in the assembly phase with 72% of the subsystems assembled to the north panel and 41% of subsystems assembled to the south panel. In parallel, the antenna subsystem and solar panels subsystem are undergoing the environmental and functional testing to be assembled to the satellite structure later.

With regard to the ground sector, a specialist joint team has been formed since last year and requirements have been defined and are consistent with the high-throughput system (HTS) and secure communication.

This year, KACST worked with its technical partner to design the ground sector using the national waveform that has been developed at KACST. Architecture design is on progress to reach final stage that should be implemented by an international company that will be selected at a later date.

This project aims at developing an end-to-end remote sensing system with its space and ground segments, to serve several government organizations. This will be achieved by developing an electro-optical payload of high resolution with the satellite platform that is capable of meeting certain remote sensing mission’s requirements. The satellite platform has been qualified in space with the SaudiSat-4 mission launched in 2014, and upgraded based on their performance in space.

The design, manufacturing and qualification of the platform’s mechanical and electronic systems were completed last year. In 2016, the manufacturing and assembly of the payload’s qualification model was completed, and all environmental tests (vibration and thermal vacuum) were carried out successfully to simulate the launch and orbit environments. Furthermore, the payload was integrated with the platform and all functional tests were completed to ensure compatibility of the mechanical and electronic systems.

Based on the results of the integration tests of the qualification models, the flight models are being manufactured and will be completely integrated in 2017.

In 2016, the launch campaign was kicked off with the launch agency. The launch campaign typically takes 18 months before the launch of the satellite to determine all the requirements associated with the orbit such as altitude and inclination, and the requirements associated with mechanical and electrical integration between the satellite and the launch vehicle. This phase was completed and the design and manufacturing of the launch vehicle has been started.

On the ground segment side, KACST is working with all stakeholders to build an efficient and cost-effective system that would serve them with a focus on raising the human and technical capabilities. The first phase of this work includes detailed studies of current status and user requirements with a consulting firm. Based on the user requirements, the system design has been developed and an RFP to implement the system has been tendered to international firms. The team is currently qualifying the best firm to implement the system.

“Eyes on Earth” is an application that represents global climate data on earth sciences through a fleet of satellites for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). KACST has just started to work with JPL to further improve the application. The application can demonstrate the vital markings of our plant, such as sea level rise, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, and ozone level in the South Pole. This application makes it possible to track the movement of water all around the world, using the gravity map from satellites (Grace). The crust’s temperature map can also be used to check global temperatures, the hotness and coldness of certain locations on earth, and the levels of CO2. The application can also track volcanic activities and forest fires. In addition, the application has a “latest events” feature, which enables users to review satellite images of natural disasters and recent events, such as algae blooms, sandstorms, and forest fires. Moreover, the application presents the current location and expected course and orbit of all earth science satellites owned by NASA that are still operating.

The goal of this project is to develop a miniaturized distributed space system by launching many small satellites that communicate with each other to enable formation flying objectives. This space system will allow for a platform that advances both space science and planetary exploration. To achieve the formation flying objectives, an accurate navigation system must be implemented, an example of such system is with laser communication. In addition, attitude determination and control systems will be developed to meet the accuracy requirements where efficient propulsion systems are employed.

In addition, a Modular Gravitational Reference Sensor has been recently developed so it can be used in the next SaudiSat exploration which is made to be “Drag-Free” and only affected by the Earth’s gravitational force. This type of device contains a floating spherical mass inside a box that is included within the satellite structure. The mass is not disturbed by the space drag while the satellite is still influenced by the drag. Thus, the location of the mass will be changed according to the force and the direction of the drag.

KACST is working on localizing the technologies that are related to solar panels manufacturing with Photovoltaic Assembly (PVA) technologies for space applications. A partnership has been formed with a leading company that specializes in this field to co-develop, co-own, and transfer the related technologies and facilities.

Photovoltaic assembly is proven to provide high-quality and cost-effective products for various satellite missions. Future national satellites will carry solar panels that have been manufactured locally. Moreover, the local and regional demand for such technologies can be met locally.

The project has been started with a detailed training program. The project team has been formed and 65% of the training program has been completed at the partner’s standard facility to expose the project team to an ideal work environment and have the experience of working alongside professionals in the field.

On the facilities side, the technical requirements and the scope of the facilities have been determined. The location and the potential suppliers are being investigated.

The project includes the design and fabrication of a portable antenna using the phased-array technology at Ka-band frequency. The project aims to:

  • Develop the design of the prototype that was implemented in the Tawjeeh 2 project, to convert it from a model to a high quality product that fits the requirements of users in the civil and military sectors.
  • Manufacture 20 devices in the first stage.
  • Train the national team on manufacturing and assembly operations as well as on the necessary laboratory tests.
  • Build an infrastructure to assemble as many components of the system as possible locally.
  • Upgrade the existing laboratories at KACST to suit the requirements of the project tests.
  • Conduct laboratory tests and quality tests for the system in KACST’s laboratories and ensure that the product conforms to the highest specifications.
  • Conduct field tests for the product to ensure that the system communicates with the satellite as required, and to test the product’s ability to withstand local environmental conditions.

KACST has signed a joint cooperation agreement with the Saudi Postal Corporation to support the update of the national address infrastructure. KACST will provide the necessary satellite images to the Postal Corporation to update the main map of national addresses in a way that contributes to the follow-up of the urban changes in all the cities and provinces of the Kingdom. The agreement includes high contrast, vertically corrected, processing of satellite images to detect urban changes, ensuring the validity and quality of data. The project aims to:

  • Provide Saudi Post with satellite images with a resolution of 1.5m to update the map of the Kingdom.
  • Supply high resolution 0.5m corrected satellite images for urban areas.
  • Provide reports showing locations of changes in urban areas based on medium-resolution 1.5m images.
  • Produce reports on changes in urban and civilized areas in the Kingdom.

This project aims to transfer and localize the dual band (X-Band, L-Band) synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology, and the High-Resolution Camera (HRC) technology. In addition, the project aims to develop spacecraft subsystems that enables such SAR missions. These sub-systems include high-speed data processing, transfer and storage system, an attitude control and a high-speed downlink systems appropriate for the advanced operational capabilities of SAR missions. The project also includes a training program for KACST’s team.

In 2016, several important steps of the development took place, including the continuation of the requirements review, then finalizing and approving it, and the designing and manufacturing of functional prototypes for testing purposes. These steps are done to confirm the ability to meet the operational requirements. Furthermore, prototypes of both the SAR antenna and processing units were built, including their firmware. Test plans, assembly, and integration plans were developed for the engineering model of the satellite payload. Preliminary design of the ground processing units is in place and their software development activity is ongoing.

This project aims to develop an electronic system that enables experts to conduct automatic and rapid advanced studies on geodetic surveys by analyzing InSAR satellite images using special software and algorithms. The project provides simple tools via web services for a smooth and effective analysis of satellite images and data, whether they were stored outputs in the archive or urgent data requested by competent entities. The outputs of analyzing such data can be used in monitoring, rapid response to natural disasters, and changes in the crust, e.g., experts can use the analysis of geodetic survey images to detect deformities of large areas of the earth’s crust. The detection is done with such high accuracy which allows the determination of the crust’s sliding accompanying earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods. The analysis can also help in the detection of how these slides are distributed, which helps in determining areas damaged by natural disasters and evaluating the extent of the damage with great accuracy. An advanced analysis can help in determining, locating, and estimating groundwater, as well as determining oil reservoirs and measuring how the extraction process will affect the stability of the crust.

Geodetic survey data are often processed manually and slowly by using traditional means. This, therefore,  hinders the benefit from the results of the analysis when it comes to supporting the urgent decisions commissions and individuals have to make upon a natural disaster, such as floods, earthquakes, and landslides. Moreover, the use of traditional methods usually requires knowledge, experience, and long-time investment to conduct the analysis.

The project aims to develop a system and a software that can analyze InSAR satellite images, seismic, and GPS data. Then process the data through mathematical equations and analytical algorithms to produce scientific products that enables experts to understand the reasons that led to surface subsidence. The results of advanced analysis of geodetic survey can reach a high level of efficiency and performance. This meets the needs of scientists and technicians for a modern output that enables them to support competent entities in making the right decision when natural disasters happen, as well as estimating damages and post-crisis rehabilitation.

Due to the importance of a national geoid reference for accurate height determination in Saudi Arabia, KACST has initiated communications with national agencies, to form a joint team for geoid computations. This model will enable users in the Kingdom to obtain accurate height measurements, anywhere in the Kingdom, above the mean sea level. Multi in-situ observations from the European satellite, GOCE, have been used to compute the model with high accuracy. The team of the project is continuing to perform some field observations for accuracy checks, and the model will be released for the public with a user-friendly software interface in the future. There was cooperation with other national agencies to unify efforts towards producing a model that satisfies the requirements of infrastructure projects. An accurate scientific model has been implemented in conjunction with the GRAVSOFT software which has been developed in one of the European universities.

The project aims to localize Geodesy technologies and its effective applications in the computation of national geoid model for the Kingdom, and provide training for the national employees.

In order to define a national geodetic reference frame, as a base for consistency of national maps and geographic information systems (GIS), which are used by national agencies, KACST has been a member (represented by the Geodesy Center) of the national team for reference frame. KACST is supporting this project, with its resources, expertise and data, and via arrangements with national agencies to unify efforts, exchange data, and observations to support digital products in the Kingdom. Accordingly, KACST has established a network of 16 CORS stations distributed all over the country, which send the data via a communication network to Riyadh. Preparations are underway to establishing a data center at Oyainah to collect, backup, and check the data.

Data has been released to some agencies as part of the national team for the reference frame. Efforts are continuing to collect observations and apply quality checks for future computations and analysis when more data become available.

The National Center for Remote Sensing Technology at KACST is working with the Saudi Geological Survey and the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection to conduct studies on areas exposed to the dangers of streams in terms of rainfall, the topography of the earth, population density, the volume of investments, the utilization and evaluation of the current situation of valley dams, drainage basins, and distribution of water ferry.

The center has completed its role in the production of satellite images, and has corrected them vertically with ground control points to obtain digital elevation models. This has enabled researchers to identify streams, know their directions, and identify the locations of water pools with high accuracy. These products have then been made available to the relevant government entities, each within its field of specialty, to complete the studies of the prevention of streams danger.

As per the Saudi Council of Ministers Decree no. 66, dated 25/02/1437H, to stop the cultivation of green fodder which is more than 50 hectares, and located in the sedimentary side, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture will build a database for green fodder farms in all regions of the Kingdom. This will include all types of crops grown, and it will be updated periodically. The Ministry of Environment, Water, Agriculture and KACST agreed to implement the geospatial data services project for fodder farms, and the project will be going for five years. It covers the winter and summer seasons of each year, and the areas of interest located in the sedimentary side are Riyadh, Eastern Province, Qassim, Hail, Al-Jawf, and Tabuk. The project requirements include calculating the area of the cultivation of fodder in the Kingdom, the creation of digital maps, and the construction of the geographical database, which involves the use of geospatial information systems technology.

KACST is involved in the Lunar Crescent Committees sighting in nine sites, which are Mecca, Medina, Riyadh, Qassim, Hail, Tabuk, Sadir and Shaqura.

KACST provides the necessary data about the sun and the moon in details, along with the devices required for the crescent moon monitoring such as telescopes and computers that guide the telescopes to aid with the crescent moon sighting. KACST publishes data about the crescent moon and distributes it to the relevant authorities.

The National Center for Astronomy is also working on a project to develop its observatories, and is developing observation devices for the crescent moon sighting. This project contributes to the development of imaging techniques used to monitor the moon, using a CCD camera, and the development of computer software used for image processing. A software program has been developed at the National Center of Astronomy for analyzing the observations data. Currently, the National Center of Astronomy’s database of crescent observations contributes to establishing a standard model for Saudi Arabia in determining the possibility of early sightings of the crescent moon.

The results of this project will contribute significantly to understanding the basics of physics for the possibility of early sightings of the crescent moon.

Scientifically, determining the visibility of the crescent moon after Luni-Solar Conjunction is still difficult and represents a challenge based on several technical factors. Having a model that can accurately sight the first crescent moon is of high importance to Saudi Arabia.

This project aims to use computer models to enter the celestial mechanics with factors involving the refraction of moonlight in the atmosphere and the sensitivity of the human eye to radiation transferred from the atmosphere. This project contributes to determining the visibility of the first crescent moon sighting, and thus the beginning of lunar months. This can be done using highly sensitive cameras and depends on the size of the telescope used in monitoring.