With the success recorded in launching four satellites in 2019, of which two were developed by Egyptian engineers locally, the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA) has rolled out a plan to build a constellation of satellites to serve various security and development needs within the Egyptian borders.
The plan is contained in Egypt’s new 10-year National Space Programme (2020-2030) which was approved last week by the board of the Egyptian Space Agency.
“We plan to develop and launch two satellites in the first three years and to start an NGEO constellation based on what we developed in the first three years. The goal is to develop constellations in the second three years, mainly for surveillance and monitoring of the Egyptian borders,” said Dr Mohamed ElKoosy, CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency in an exclusive interview with Space in Africa.
The satellite programme will enhance Egypt’s capacity in mitigating the risk of climate change, grow the country’s capability in space weather and space debris mitigation.
“Also, the program is focusing on climate change, space weather and space debris mitigation,” ElKoosy said.
While Egypt currently has growing capabilities in the development of small satellites, ElKoosy acknowledges the need to collaborate with foreign allies who have expertise in space weather and space debris mitigation.
“At the moment, we have good activities in the development of satellites, but Egypt requires more effort in space weather and debris mitigation which is why we shall align with other countries that have already started working in these two fields”.
Last year, Egypt launched twin 1U Cubesats: NARSSCube-2 July and NARSSCube-1 in September, under the NARSSCube satellite programme which started in July 2017 with the goal of “demonstrating, in orbit, the capabilities of the Egyptian space industry to develop in-house satellite subsystems”.
Under the NARSSCube programme, Egyptian engineers developed a more advanced 3U Cubesat named NARSSCube-3 which is scheduled for launch in the third quarter of 2020.
With 13 million EGP (about USD 828K) in funding from the Academy of Scientific Research in Egypt (ASRT), the NARSSCube programme provided Egyptian engineers and scientists with hands-on research experience in nanosatellite subsystems, which is ultimately bolstering Egypt’s capabilities in small satellite sub-system and on-board software technologies.
Egypt has already commenced the development of a world-class satellite assembly, integration and testing facilities (AIT) and ground station facilities with support and expertise from the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). In 2016, the Chinese government provided a USD 22 million grant to support the establishment of Egypt’s AIT facilities.
In September 2019, Egypt began implementation of the second phase of the satellite programme which involves the development of the MisrSat-II satellite, a 65 Kg Earth observation satellite, with a USD 72 million grant provided by the Chinese government.
ElKoosy confirmed that while MisrSat-II is a joint project between the Egyptian Space Agency and CNSA, both parties agreed that all work related to the satellite project will be done in Egypt.
“That means the Chinese will come to Egypt to follow up on the work done by Egyptian engineers,” he added.
As the name implies, MisrSat is short for National Experimental Satellite. The goal is to have Egyptian engineers and scientists acquire on-the-project experience using facilities available in Egypt. This will help domesticate knowledge of satellite subsystems in Egypt.
“What the experiment means is that we will test our capability, our national capability to develop this satellite. We decided that we will import the subsystems from international suppliers, and we will take part in the test and assemble the subsystems and also upload the software onboard along with the subsystems.”
ElKoosy confirmed that EgSA issued an international call for the subsystems with specs already designed by Egyptian engineers. Suppliers from China, Germany and Japan submitted tenders. At the end of the day, the German supplier won the contract.
The unnamed German supplier has delivered most of the subsystems to EgSA, with the Egyptian team responsible for the development of all software of the subsystems, testing of the subsystems and for assembling of all the subsystems.
“Also, we are developing the software for onboard computers, software for communication, software for altitude determination subsystem, for power subsystem, all these software for subsystems are what we are developing.”
“If I count the activities of the Egyptian team in the project, you can say the 45 per cent of the total work needed for the development of the satellite is done and conducted at the Egyptian Space Agency,” ElKoosy said, noting that the target is to develop another experimental satellite with the same characteristics [probably named MisrSat-III], but with about 60 per cent local input from the Egyptian team.
When asked about the current stage of the project and the expected launch timeline, ElKoosy said:
“For the MisrSat[-II], we are in the final stage for testing the subsystem. We are going to start the assembly and also we are in the process of contracting the launcher. We hope to launch the satellite by the end of 2021. This date is subject to international regulation and when the launching vehicle is available. Because they need to deliver the [completed] satellite six months before the date of launching. We agreed that it will be at the end of the year, maybe November 2021,”.
ElKoosy confirmed that launching of the satellite will be contracted to the Chinese and will be launched onboard a Long March rocket.
According to plans outlined in the new 10-year National Space Programme, both MisrSat-II and MisrSat-III are expected to be launched in the first three years of the programme, by 2023, paving way for the launch of a larger constellation in the medium-term of the second three years.
So far, Egypt has launched nine satellites into space including three communications satellites owned by its publicly-traded satellite operator Nilesat. Four of the nine satellites were launched last year, indicating a renewed interest in space by the current Egyptian administration.
With Egypt winning the host country of the proposed African Space Agency in February 2019, as well as its active role in the Arab Space Cooperation Group, we expect sustained space activities in the North African nation, hopefully, leading to the growth of its fledgeling NewSpace cluster.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.