Andrea Sanz Yus |
Nairobi (EFE).- After the establishment last January of the African Space Agency (AfSA), the continent sent a clear message to the rest of the world: Africa is also looking at the cosmos and preparing for the conquest of space.
After coming a long way, Africa is rushing to catch up in a sector in which Egypt – which hosts the headquarters of the AfSA, created by the African Union -, Nigeria and South Africa are the heavyweights of the continent.
“In Africa, there is no space race between countries,” the director of Media and Corporate Communication of the National Space Research and Development Agency of Nigeria (NASRDA), Felix Ale, clarified to EFE.
“We look for the benefits and what we can do to find solutions to the problems of the entire continent, and space science and technology are the key,” Ale added.
Africa in space
25 years ago, the continent began looking to the stars when Egypt launched its first communications satellite, NileSat 101, in April, with support from the European Space Agency (ESA) from French Guiana.
A year later, South Africa became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to successfully put a satellite into orbit, Sunsat 1, launched aboard a Delta II rocket from the Vandenberg space base (United States).
Although each country sends its satellites, the information and results obtained are applied on the continent to fight, for example, against environmental problems that Africa faces.
From 1998 to last June, a total of 58 satellites led by African countries have been launched into space, according to data from Space in Africa, a Nigerian consultancy specialized in the space industry.
In 2023, the launch of more devices by Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, among other African countries, is planned, in addition to Kenya, which launched its first operational satellite on April 15.
“When we collaborate with other countries we see ourselves as colleagues, no one is superior to the other,” the acting deputy director of space infrastructure and facilities at the Kenya Space Agency (KSA), Marc Ndonga, told EFE in Nairobi.
The economies of the countries participating in the African space race are very different, but Ndonga still stressed that, when they carry out collaborative projects with other nations, decision-making is “joint” and that the important thing is that “together they face the problems of the continent.”
“Possibilities beyond our skies”
“We want to occupy a place in this industry, because if not, the less you participate, the further behind you will fall,” said the head of KSA.
From the KSA headquarters, adorned with maps, space logos and the phrase “Possibilities Beyond Our Skies” on the walls, Ndonga insisted on Kenya’s need to have “parity with other countries in the growth of the space industry.”
“Here we see space as a facilitator for the socioeconomic development of the country,” he highlighted, adding that it also constitutes a “great platform for technological development.”
For Ndonga, African countries are very “young” in the space race, but participating in it “can contribute a lot to their economies” and achieve “significant change on the continent.”
Last April, the KSA launched Taifa-1 into space, a satellite designed and developed by Kenyan researchers to help in the fight against climate change and agriculture.
Although the satellite is in the configuration phase, Ndonga stressed that “information will be obtained (from the device) soon.”
A cosmodrome on the continent
Looking to the future, Ale noted that “there are many problems in Africa and the best way to address them is through the application of space science and technology.”
Space is increasingly noticing the African presence, as the continent’s space industry has become one of the sectors with the greatest growth potential.
Nowadays, and seeing how far Africa has come, the continent’s governments are willing to invest increasingly in resources as part of their scientific and technological development agendas.
With a view to being able to launch satellites and rockets from African soil, the Government of Djibouti signed an agreement last January with the Chinese aerospace group Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group for the construction of a cosmodrome worth 1,000 million dollars (about 932.5 millions of euros).
According to Space in Africa’s estimate, the African space sector will move around 22 billion dollars (about 20.52 billion euros) by 2026.
Likewise, the continent has an agenda of space missions, with 108 satellite launches scheduled between 2023 and 2026, according to a consulting firm.
Africa is not going to be left behind in the global race to space and Ndonga is very clear about it: “The future of Kenya and Africa can be very bright.”