The 2022 NewSpace Africa Conference commenced on Monday with discussions highlighting the experiences and uptake of space innovation, technologies, and applications among different stakeholders [government agencies, commercial companies and academia]. As a continuation of the first and second days, the last day consisted of high-level segments of keynote speeches, interactive sessions, panel discussions, B2B matchmaking, B2C matchmaking, a dinner and unique networking opportunities.
The final day of the conference began with a keynote speech from Dr Ayman Ahmed who delivered his speech virtually. Dr Ayman discussed the projects that the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA) were undergoing, as well as the agency’s structure and principles. This was followed by a heads of space agency panel. Dr Painos Gweme, Coordinator of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), Dr Hana Aouinet and Dr Engr. Aboubakar Mambimba Ndjoungui, Deputy Director-General of the Gabonese Agency for Space Studies and Observations (AGEOS). Dr Hana and Dr Aboubakar joined in virtually for their speeches.
Mr Painos Gweme explained that ZINGSA is a state-sponsored agency established to promote the peaceful use of space; support the creation of an environment conducive to industrial development in space technology; foster research in geospatial science and earth observation, space science, space engineering, communications, navigation and space physics; advance scientific engineering and technological competencies and capabilities and foster international cooperation in space-related activities. In addition, he added that his agency is focused on bridging the connectivity gap in Zimbabwe.
Mr Gweme also gave an update about the Zimbabwean first satellite the ZIMSAT-1, a 1U educational and amateur radio mission cubesat manufactured by Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology. In addition, he noted that the satellite has reached an advanced development stage and is scheduled for launch in 2022. Mr Gweme also explained that his agency is also working on a communication satellite with several stakeholders.
The heads of space agencies panel was followed by a Keynote presentation by Dr Ciu Cufu, the Chief Engineer and Project Manager; DFH Satellite Co., Ltd. During the presentation, Dr Ciu discussed the company’s overview and services, before discussing its partnerships with African entities. For example, DFH Satellite worked in partnership with the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI) on the development and launch of their first satellite, ETRSS-1. According to Dr Ciu’s presentation, the company also partnered with Egypt for the development of the Misrsat-1 satellites. They also conduct engineering training with other African countries including Kenya, Congo and Ghana.
First panel session: Doing business in Africa
The first-panel session focused on issues (problems and opportunities) regarding doing business within the African space industry. The session was moderated by Anna Aikohi, Head of Analytics at Space in Africa.
Speaking on her experiences while entering the African market, Selina Hayes, CEO of Hayes Group International, began by noting the nascency of the space industry in Africa. Furthermore, she appreciated the new and interesting technology being churned out from Africa and the entrepreneurship spirit and hoped they can be transferred to other parts of the globe. Louis Moussi, Consultant, Research Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (RIIS), also noted the peculiarity of his perspective while expressing the potential of the continent in solving its socio-economic challenges. He explained the Africa EO challenge that his organisation (RIIS) pioneered to foster capacity development and entrepreneurship.
In addition, Viola C. Kirui, Co-Founder & Director, Geospatial Research International (GRI), expressed how she found herself at the right place and time and consequently seized the opportunity. This led her to begin her entrepreneurship journey in the space industry. She noted the prior limited awareness and abstractness of space application, making it challenging to sell her idea. She also noted the funding challenges she faced before and while penetrating the space industry.
Similarly, Hussein Iman, Manager in charge of Infrastructure and Private Sector; African Development Bank, discussed the funding mechanics within the African Development Bank. He noted how they funded various initiatives on the continent including RASCOM and the New dawn satellite (USD 49 million). He also discussed a capped sum that was allocated to different African nations which they could utilise for any projects, including space. Additionally, Iman explained that the AfDB provides funding directly to banks in the southern and northern African regions which are then charged with providing loans to small and middle scale businesses that would primarily be obscure to the AfDB
Speaking on the experiences of operating in an emerging market [in terms of funding and support], Selina explained that Africa has a great ecosystem filled with innovative startups and wishes that the governments play a greater role to provide an enabling environment for the space industry to grow. She also discussed the importance of providing the right human capital resources as well as developing new policies to stimulate growth across all sectors of the industry.
Louis also spoke about the EO challenge which runs on a partnership model where different industry players show a willingness to invest funds into the ecosystem. According to him, the challenge was originally planned as a South African event and has now grown into a pan African event with each year recording more innovative ideas and more female participation in the space scene. In addition, Louis explained the need for a more comprehensive regulatory framework and a reform to the African educational curricula to enable the growth of the sector.
Viola discussed the butterfly effect of the inadequate human capital resource on the African space sector and methods to reduce the capacity gap to ensure that we create the necessary pipeline for present and future needs.
Speaking about access to funding for space projects, Iman outlined that the African Development Bank makes provisions of USD 5-11 billion at any time for members to tap into. However, he explained the semantics regarding the approval of loans, which he said could take about three years. He also noted that the bank does not slate any specific amount on any particular sector and emphasised that the business viability, creditworthiness and the particular loanee’s risk assessment would determine whether or not the loan would be approved.
On the risks to doing business in Africa, Selina reiterated that access to funding is the greatest bottleneck. However, she recommended that are several funding opportunities open to Africa from organisations such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States, United States Agency for International Development, and United States Trade and Development Agency, amongst others.
Second panel session: Roles of policies and regulations in accelerating industry growth
This session was moderated by Kofoworola Joshua Faleti, an analyst at Space in Africa
Speaking on the role of the African Space Agency in fostering the industry’s growth, Alma Okpalefe, Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, NigComSat, opined that at the core, the regulation does enough to enhance cooperation within the continent. However, she explained that there is a lot of expectation from the African Space Agency (AfSA) and its promise of a bigger and better space ecosystem. She explained that for the agency to provide optimal service to all members of the continent, the African Union Commission would need to provide enough funding for the agency and also grant the agency autonomy and the authority to implement the policies that would advance the industry.
Professor Sias Mostert, Chairman, SCS Aerospace Group, noted that universities and research institutes are important places to cultivate human capital development as they provide the right structure and give students the opportunity to work on a space project. In addition, he discussed the importance to create a central database where all space products and services from African universities would be consolidated and made accessible to everyone. He mentioned that several South African universities have been involved in satellite projects in the past. He then recommended that the knowledge that these institutions possess should be shared, and the infrastructures that they have can also be reused to build capacity and accelerate growth in the industry.
Speaking on the legal framework currently in place within Africa, Leehandi Kearney, Head of Sales and Marketing, NewSpace Systems, discussed the issues regarding South Africa’s first satellite project. She explained that the government placed a restriction which made it impossible for South Africa to collaborate with foreign companies. In addition, Leehandi mentioned that 99% of their sales come from foreign sales which she attributed to the lack of trust by Africans and the stereotype that African made products are below industry standards.
On the role of policies in accelerating the growth of the industry, Professor Sias explained the difference between making policies that favour the government and making policies that favour the industry’s growth. Furthermore, he explained that the government’s decision would determine the growth attainable in the African space ecosystem.
Regarding a question from the audience regarding bridging the gap between technological advancements and the policy necessary to make it effective, Dr Arlette expressed that sometimes, it may be more effective to be patient with the technological advancement so the policymakers can observe it carefully and make an all-encompassing regulation regarding it. According to her, hastily churning out policies to keep up with the advancements may result in half-baked policies that may require modification when previously unseen aspects of the technological advancements become obvious.
Third panel session: Accelerating public-private and international collaborations
The third panel revolved around fostering public-private partnerships (PPPs) and international collaborations. Meshack Kinyua Ndiritu, Space Applications Training Officer, African Union Commission moderated the panel session and began by asking about the bottlenecks that hinder private sector growth in Africa and other parts of the world
Semou Diouf, Director, SatNav Africa Joint Programme Office (JPO), noted that lack of awareness regarding the space economy was a key hindrance. He opined that 30% of the EU economy will depend on EU GMES in 2030, expressing the importance of awareness regarding the impact of space application in modern society. Semou also noted funding as another bottleneck in the space sector, opining that it’s important to learn from existing models and avoid working in isolation. Fernand Bale, Director, Côte d’Ivoire Geographic and Digital Information Center (CIGN), also agreed with the issue of awareness and the entrepreneurial mindset. As a result, he concluded that the basic requirements are still absent, leading to the primary bottleneck
Remarking on the question, Che Bolden, President and CEO, of the Charles F. Bolden Group observed that space is a global effort and cannot be undertaken alone, as such, effective partnerships are necessary. He notes that the initial challenge is that people are risk-averse, and defined risk as an unknown, concluding that any unknown is an opportunity.
The moderator subsequently asked the panellists about the importance of PPPs. Che answered that it’s very essential, noting that one of NASA’s mandates is to find the right commercial partners for space development. He notes that the function of the government is to assume the risk for the private sector while the private sector is responsible for developing. Che subsequently expressed his belief that combining the government’s risk mitigation and the private sector’s development and innovation is the recipe for rapid space industry development. Semou also joined thoughts with Che, agreeing that PPP was essential. Likewise, Bale also agreed with Che that space applications are primarily for security and notes that this may cause the government to be reticent in collaborating with the private sector.
Meshack similarly asked his panellists if they advocated for international partnerships and collaborations with governments or private entities? Dr Semou replied that partnerships work more accurately, especially in the upstream industry, if it is coordinated under the aegis of the national government. He also advocates a layered form of partnership approach – national governments collaborate with national governments and the private sector partners with the private sector. Che also advocated the use of the zero-sum method, noting that the advantage in Africa is the incredible human resource in Africa.
Being the last day of the conference, the daily activities and conference were rounded off with a dinner. The winner of the NewSpace Africa Startup Pitch Competition, Ignitos Space Zambia, was announced during the dinner ceremony. Temidayo Oniosun, Managing Director of Space in Africa gave his closing remarks and expressed his gratitude towards the participants and sponsors of the event, subsequently bringing the three-day event to a close.
Faleti Joshua is an avid lover of space in all its incomprehensible nature. He holds both an LL.B and a B.L degree. Joshua is a lover of music and a lawyer in his free time.