UAE takes giant leap in space technology with Yahsat-Bayanat merger

The new entity worth $4 billion will be focused on AI and satellite communications and is backed by Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi is consolidating two of its biggest space technology companies to create a new entity focused on artificial intelligence and satellite communications with an implied market value of $4 billion. 

The two ADX-listed companies – Al Yah Satellite Communications Co., better known as Yahsat, and Bayanat – said in statements to the stock exchange on Tuesday that their respective boards of directors have voted to recommend their merger to shareholders.

The proposed transaction will be executed through a share swap with Bayanat as the remaining legal entity. 

The merger is the culmination of advances in technology at both companies, according to Anna Hazlett, founder of UAE-based space strategy and investment firm AzurX. “Bayanat’s expertise in developing AI and machine learning capabilities for the space sector has the potential to turbocharge Yahsat’s satellite communications and nascent Earth observation fleets and services,” Hazlett told The Circuit

“This potential could put the merger at the cutting edge of satellite operations and geospatial solutions globally and will make it a force to be reckoned with,” she said.

Bayanat is backed by G42, the AI holding company overseen by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the UAE national security advisor who also chairs the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority – the Gulf’s biggest sovereign wealth fund – as well as the state-backed strategic investment company ADQ, the country’s largest lender First Abu Dhabi Bank, and International Holding Company. 

The firm provides geospatial products across sectors such as government services and environmental monitoring and is also leading the emirate’s driverless vehicle pilot program. 

Yahsat, a global satellite operator that has been around since 2007, is partly owned by Abu Dhabi’s second largest sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala Investment Co., and provides satellite services in more than 150 countries around the world. 

Yahsat Chairman Musabbeh Al Kaabi said the new entity “will benefit from accelerated growth potential as a player of scale with enhanced competitive advantage.”

Bayanat and Yahsat shareholders will own 54% and 46% respectively of the new combined entity, with Mubadala, G42 and International Holding Company owning 29%, 42%, and 8% respectively, according to a statement. 

The merger is expected to take place in the second half of 2024; Bayanat and Yahsat will continue to operate independently in the meantime.

The UAE was the first mover in the region to develop a space sector as Gulf countries race to develop knowledge-based economies, shifting away from reliance on oil revenues for growth. 

In 2022, the UAE, the second largest economy in the Arab world, said it planned to invest more than $820 million in the private space sector, building on $408 million already poured into the nascent field over the preceding eight years as economic diversification efforts gather pace across the region. 

The strategy has focused on creating a regulatory environment for space companies to set up shop in the UAE, and encouraging Arab youth to pursue work in space-related industries. 

Regulations to allow space technology companies to do business in the UAE were established in 2019, the same year Hazza Al Mansouri became the first Emirati astronaut, traveling in the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft to the International Space Station. 

Economic zones dedicated to space commercial development are underway in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah to allow start-ups and established businesses to set up. The UAE Space Agency has also launched a start-up fund, called Space Analytics and Solutions, which has an initial budget of $5.4 million to support companies opening in the emirates.

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