As the year winds up, it is exciting to recap Africa’s journey in space in 2019 which is the best year so far in the continent’s 21-year space history. The year started on a high note with consultations on integrating the African space sector through the establishment of an umbrella agency that will co-ordinate the continent’s space programmes.
Although the conversation on founding an African space agency started long before 2019, it reached a new milestone with Egypt winning the host country at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in February at the AU headquarters Addis Ababa. The year gradually progressed with further developments in formulating the modalities of the agency and setting guidelines for its operations.
Although still at the embryonic stage, the African Space Agency dominated political and business conversations on multilateral space cooperation in Africa at various high-level panels and industry events on the continent and abroad. This, in essence, set the tone and the urgency for kick-starting formal operations of the Agency in 2020.
On a national scale, 2019 witnessed an emergence of new entrants into the league of space-faring African nations – nations that have successfully launched a satellite into space. Before 2019, the elite league comprised of only 8 African countries: Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa. Now the league includes Rwanda, Sudan and Ethiopia following the launch of RwaSat-1 in September, SRSS-1 in November and ETRSS-1 in December, respectively.
The industry is expected to grow about 40% in the next five year from its current valuation of USD 7.37 billion to over USD 10.24 billion. Presently, 11 countries in Africa have launched at least a satellite and it is projected that before 2024, the number will rise to at least 18. Click here for the breakdown of revenue from the industry and the future projection.
Also, the continent witnessed tremendous growth in the number of countries that have declared an interest in space exploration. Particularly, Uganda and Zimbabwe that announced their space ambitions with plans to launch a satellite by 2022, while Cameroon commissioned a feasibility study for the launch of a national space programme.
In June, Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni pushed for space technology research with Russia after a meeting with delegates from the Russian-Uganda Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Science and Technical Cooperation. In October, Museveni held another bilateral meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin and different leaders of Russia and Africa exploring partnerships in areas of space science and technology during the 2019 Russia-Africa summit. The consultations heralded the possibility of launching a Ugandan satellite by 2022 according to Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, the Ugandan Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, who disclosed the information at the 2019 World Science Day held in Makerere University, Kampala, in November.
Similarly, the Zibwawean government in January 2019 commenced the implementation of its national space science programmes through the Higher and Tertiary Education Science and Technology Development Ministry under the coordination of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency which was established in July 2018. Zimbabwe embarked on several space science activities in 2019. However, the highlight of the year for the Southern African nation is the announcement of a fund set aside for the launch of its satellite which was disclosed in November 2019 by the Zimbabwean Minister of Finance Mthuli Ncube during a national budget hearing session.
Beyond the declaration of interest to start space programmes, Africa launched a record eight satellites in 2019, the highest ever launched by the continent in a calendar year. Starting with the launch of EgyptSat-A in February, the year progressed with the launch of XinaBox Thinsat in April. The third quarter recorded the launch of Egypt’s indigenously-built 1 CubeSat, NARSSCube-2, in July. The last quarter witnessed a record launch of five satellites: Egypt’s NARSSCube-1 and Rwanda’s RwaSat in September, Sudan’s SRSS-1 and Egypt’s TIBA-1 in November, and Ethiopia’s ETRSS-1 in December.
African countries have now successfully launched 41 satellites into space to date, with Egypt holding the record for the highest number of satellites having launched four satellites into space in 2019 to bring its total record to nine. South Africa closely follows with record eight satellites. Algeria and Nigeria hold the third place with six satellites each. Morocco has launched three satellites into space while Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan have a record for one each. Multilateral satellites such as Rascom-QAF 1, Rascom-QAF 1R and the New Dawn satellite (now wholly owned by Intelsat) round up the total figure to 41.
There is an increase in the national governments budget and investment in the space industry across the continent, more countries are starting to develop space programs, there is an increase in the number of satellites being launched and space technologies is having massive positive impacts in the growth and development of the continent. There is also growth in the number of NewSpace companies on the continent with more efforts into supporting the establishment of more. While 2019 is unequivocally the best year in Africa’s 21 year space history, we envisage an upward trend in 2020 across all the segments of the industry.