The African Space Industry, like the rest of the global economy, was shaped by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This effect spread across different sectors of the industry, including Newspace companies. As part of the Space in Africa ‘2020 in review’ series, we met with Meshack Kinyua, co-founder of Omarichet, a Newspace company in Africa, to discuss the effect of the pandemic on their operations.
Omarichet is currently working on developing Communication, and ‘Navigation & Positioning’ Satellites in Africa, and for African use. Kinyua tells us their projections for the industry.
As one of the NewSpace companies working on Navigation and Positioning satellites in Africa, how would you describe the business year 2020 for you?
In the case of Omarichet, we are still at the embryonic stage of the mission itself. In fact, we did not expect profits in 2020, or even 2021, because these are the years of capacity building and laying down the precursor mission before we move to the main mission. So we can say that our full business will be up in the next 3-5 years. Our model is not just to procure hardware or software for the sake of doing business. We have a clear mission of building indigenous capacities, prototyping capabilities with indigenously developed nanosat and then developing the full mission. The process below is always guiding us.
In summary, this year affected only our hands-on capacity building activity, in which case we conducted it online. We still need to conduct several rounds of hands-on training to build sub-teams that master all the sub-systems of the cubesat.
In comparison to N&P companies outside the continent, how has Omarichet been able to cushion the effect of the pandemic on your operations?
Our investments are minimal at this stage because we are building partnerships. Nevertheless, we have been able to acquire the most important hardware, which is the training kit for a full satellite. In general, because we are not yet in the profit-making zone, we didn’t see a lot of effects of the COVID-19. We saw better opportunities for discussing with some potential partners online without travels.
Omarichet is still developing, with a lot of potentials. But potentials need funding; has the pandemic affected the level of funding available to Omarichet?
I would say that we have started demonstrating the seriousness of our mission to build a critical mass by conducting training online and still seeking to develop full platforms for simulated hands-on learning, that takes time as you know. We have had some partners discuss with us in the best way we can move forward. Again, the mission is to demonstrate the first level of building the critical mass, with little investments, before we start with rounds of investment series.
Omarichet is a global collaborator, how would you describe your collaborations for 2020 as against in previous years and as a precursor for the future?
This year was easy to foster collaborations because all institutions embraced online interactions. In one part, this cut down the costs of travel to build collaborations, and it also cut costs on activities like training because there was no much logistics required to put up those activities.
Part of the Omarichet system involves training students in high schools and universities. The pandemic, no doubt, have impacted this. How do you intend to progress from here?
We had budgeted to bring about 20 local students in our first classroom training. When we quickly adopted the online option, we reached out to over 100 students in 17 countries! That is when we realised that COVID-19 was also an opportunity to evolve. We are now building a full curricular to be hosted on the Learning Management System that will allow many students to build their critical skills in satellite missions.
What would you consider as the most crucial adaptation lesson for Omarichet this year?
The ability and flexibility to evolve at the junction of every prevailing situation is, no doubt a good lesson for us. Openness to business and sometimes indulging in risks is another good lesson too in the space sector. Sometimes the full business is never clear until you start it, you won’t see the full potentials. Of course, planning is vital, but overplanning is a detriment because many business processes can be revised or reversed later if they don’t make sense.
What is the future of Omarichet in the industry?
Guided by the existing gaps, our Vision is to realise an interconnected Africa and the world through digital infrastructure. Guided by this mission, the mission is to develop and operate (1) Satellite Communication and (2) Navigation, Positioning and Timing missions to provide communication and precise location-based services. We are still keeping track in this regard.