The United Arab Emirates unveiled its strategy for space exploration and launches on Monday. In this picture, the UAE flag flies in front of the Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai on Dec 2, 2007. Reuters/Steve Crisp

The United Arab Emirates on Monday unveiled its strategy for a space program, outlining a plan for satellite launches and for sending the first Arab unmanned probe to Mars by 2021.

"The establishment of a fully-fledged space sector in the UAE, with all necessary human resources, infrastructure and scientific research, is a primary national objective," UAE's Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said, announcing the strategic plan, according to UPI.

The Gulf federation is quickly establishing itself as the Middle East’s leading nation in space. In April, it announced a partnership with France’s space agency CNES, and also explored opportunities to build strategic ties with NASA.

The country’s first satellite was launched in 2000 by satellite phone operator Thuraya. But the first satellite backed by the UAE government was launched aboard a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan in 2009.

The latest plans include an academic space program involving a partnership between the country’s Masdar Institute and U.S.-based Orbital ATK, as well as the establishment of the first space research center in the Middle East over the next five years. The center, which is set to cost $27 million, will be handled through a partnership between the agency, the UAE University and the country’s telecommunications authority, the Associated Press reported.

The agency ultimately plans to put a probe, named “Hope,” on Mars by 2021. Earlier this month, it announced that the probe would circle the planet and study its atmosphere, including the effects of surface features such as volcanoes and deserts.

"The Hope Probe and the UAE Space Agency are milestones for the development of the UAE. Today, we are at the dawn of a new era that holds the promise of ambitious advancements," Sheikh Mohammed said, according to IANS.

About 75 Emirati engineers are currently working on the probe project, and the agency reportedly hopes to double that number by 2020.