2020 in Review – Ethiopian Space Program

Dr Yeshurun Alemayehu
Dr Yeshurun Alemayehu, Deputy Director General of ESSTI

Ethiopia was the only African country that managed to launch a satellite in 2020, the ET-SMART-RSS, a small satellite built and launched with support from China. In October 2020, the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI) changed its top management following the appointment of its former Deputy Director-General Mr Abdissa Yilma as the new Director-General and Dr Yeshurun Alemayehu as the new Deputy Director-General in an appointment letter signed by the Prime Minister who heads the country’s Space Science and Technology Council. The new DG and the deputy were mandated to commence their new role effective from 28 September 2020.

In line with Space in Africa’s 2020 in Review series, we had a chat with Dr Yeshurun Alemayehu, the Deputy Director-General of Ethiopian Space Science & Technology Institute (ESSTI) on what the Institute has been up to in 2020 and what to look forward to in 2021.

What is the vision of the new leadership for ESSTI?

It is to make ESSTI as exemplary and one of the best space agencies in Africa.

What are the milestones achieved by ESSTI in 2020?

  • Launching the second satellite
  • Construction of the multi-mission satellite data receiving ground station.
  • Graduating students in PhD and MSc in the areas of Space Science, Geodesy, Astronomy & Astrophysics and Remote Sensing
  • Creating local and international collaborations
  • Starting the M-AIT project

What are the success stories from your various ongoing projects and initiatives?

When we came into power, we prepared a 100 days plan and strictly followed our plan. As per the plan, we resolved good governance problems, technical problems and bottlenecks. We succeeded in constructing (in a fast track) the multi-mission satellite data receiving ground station. We launched the second satellite, and we started to establish the National Earth Observatory Lab under our institute.

You signed new agreements and MoU this year, what does it mean for the Ethiopian National Space Program?

We have signed several MoU and new agreements with local and international partners. It is because we want to fill the gap of technical, facility and experience in the sector. To share/exchange facilities, human resource and other necessary resources for the mutual benefit. This will greatly enhance ESSTI’s effort in the space sector.

Could you provide insight into ESSTI Space Budget for 2021?

ESSTI Space Budget has been increasing from year to year. As the demand for space products increases, there is an increase in awareness to use space products and our government is putting more attention to the Space sector. The Space Budget is for developing new products, technology transfer, infrastructural development and enhancing research & technology development initiatives.

What is the current status of your several satellite projects?

We have a plan to launch at least three satellites in the coming 5 to 10 years. This will include a communication & broadcasting satellite and a high-resolution Earth observation satellite. We are also planning to build satellite Manufacturing, Assembly and Integration (M-AIT) centre and now we are looking to secure finance for it. In collaboration with China, we have launched two satellites into orbit. We are also developing multi-mission data receiving ground station that can receive EO data from 5 different satellites. The project will be completed by early March 2021.

How much impact does the pandemic have on your project implementation and how were you able to mitigate this?

The pandemic impacted a lot. For example, as you may have heard, the satellite M-AIT project was planned to be financed by the French Government and the European Investment Bank (EIB). We were expected to meet and deal with them face-to-face; however, because of the COVID we didn’t. Also, because of the impact of COVID in Europe, EIB officials have not yet decided to fund the project. These delayed the project implementation and still has not been solved. To mitigate the problem, we have been trying to use the “Zoom meeting” platform but it can’t replace the face-to-face discussion.


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