As African countries build capacity in the space industry, a number of nations are trooping to the continent to market their expertise and deepen cooperation in science and space technology.
By Conrad Onyango, bird story agency
In early September, China organised a dialogue session between three of its astronauts in orbit and youth drawn from eight African countries, via a video link.
In the same month, Europe hosted Africa’s first regional stakeholder space workshop in Pretoria. A similar workshop had been held in Portugal in July, reflecting the extent to which developed countries are projecting a mix of soft power and space sector capacity, across the continent.
Over the last decade, Africa’s interest in space has been growing fast, offering opportunities for existing and new players from within and outside the continent.
However, Africa needs to develop a far larger pool of local space experts, according to a report on the sector.
“Capability gaps benefit foreign space powers, such as China and Europe,” according to a 2022 EU Global Action on Space, Market Report Africa.
Space in Africa, a media, analytics and consulting firm, projects that the continent’s space market will exceed US$ 10 billion in value by 2024, on the back of rising investment.
Over the last few years, Africa’s space industry has been busy with a number of countries paying to send satellites into orbit – including those designed and developed on the continent-.
Last year, ten more African s countries forayed into space science and are working on developing their first satellite, according to the Africa Space Industry Annual Report 2021.
By the close of 2021, some 13 African countries had sent satellites into orbit.
The report shows that 125 new satellites have been lined up for development by 2025 – by 23 African countries. Those figures have begun catching the eye of foreign space powers.
China has been on a diplomatic mission ever since launching its space station, Tiangong, in July. The mission showcases China’s developments in space, highlights its pool of experts and promotes its capacity to help African nations achieve their space ambitions.
“This is the first time that a major aerospace power has direct contact with African youths through “space-ground communications,” which will further inspire the young African generation to look up at the stars and devote themselves to science and technology,” said Head of Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the African Union, Hu Changchun in a statement.
So far, the mission of China to the African Union, the China Manned Space Agency, and the African Union Commission have reached Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia and South Africa through the astronaut-driven dialogue opportunity. The live events are dubbed, “Talk with Taikonauts,” and target the youth, considered Africa’s future space science custodians.
Currently, China is the largest beneficiary of space partnerships with African nations, enjoying huge commercial deals in building several satellites for countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Last year, Europe unveiled two initiatives with a combined investment value of US$ 29 million to develop the use of satellite technologies in Africa’s space over the next four years.
Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMESA) and Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) have both offered to provide navigation services to the continent’s aviation sector, while the EU hopes to crystallise its longstanding cooperation with Africa.
European countries are now looking to move beyond their numerous funding and assistance initiatives – mostly at public and academic level – to grow their share of commercial activities in a variety of African tech spaces.
“The market opportunities with the highest potential are expected to be in agriculture, emergency response, transportation and infrastructure monitoring,” the EU advised its investors in its space market report.
These are key areas for Africa’s space policies, with the big focus currently on earth observation, satellite communication, navigation and exploration.
Those sentiments are also shared in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Digital Earth (DE) Africa Report, called ‘Unlocking the potential of Earth Observation to address Africa’s critical challenges,’ which calls on African countries to leverage new-found satellite capacity, to improve data collection and spur development.
Some of the challenges the continent faces include access to drinking water, rapid urban development, active deforestation and food insecurity, according to the report.
In 2021, African governments increased space sector expenditure by nine percent, to US$ 548.6 million. The 2021 figure was already a 94 percent rise from the US$ 283.12 million spent in 2018.
South Africa, the most advanced space market in Africa, had the highest national budget – at US$ 154 million – followed by Nigeria, at US$ 68 million and Angola, at US$ 24 million.
Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and Gabon all also have sizeable budgets for space technology.
bird story agency