Excerpt from the U.S.-African Space Cooperation Webinar

Space in Africa and CompTIA Space Enterprise Council hosted a webinar on the US-African Space Cooperation, themed “Unlocking Innovation Across the Continent”. The event was borne out of the need to examine the current and future challenges and opportunities to US-African space cooperation focusing on innovation, space technologies, services, and applications. 

The event had two-panel sessions, each with presentations from representatives of African countries (Egypt, Kenya and South Africa) and the United States. The first was a discussion with three African panellists:

  1. Dr Ayman Ahmed, member of the board of directors at the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA), and head of the imaging department at the EgSA
  2. Charles Mwangi, Research, Education & Outreach Lead at the Kenya Space Agency
  3. Dr Martin Snow, SARCHI Research Chair at the Space Weather Centre in Hermanus, South Africa

Dr Ayman presented Egypt’s space activities, highlighting some milestones recorded within the agency. He mentioned the country’s capabilities in satellite manufacturing, assembly, integration and testing, which has translated into several satellite launches. For example, the NileSat’s TV broadcasting and communication satellite series, the EgyptSat series (earth observation satellite series), TIBA-1 communication satellites, and the NARSSCUBE research and education satellite series (NARSSCUBE 1 and NARSSCUBE 2). He also mentioned his country’s involvement in space research using machine learning to develop solutions to improve Egypt’s preparedness and early-warning mitigation systems to tackle climate change.

Furthermore, he underscored the relationship between Egypt and the US to improve space research and its application. To this end, he discussed the roles of the US during the launch of the NARSSCube in 2019. In addition, Dr Ayman spoke about Egypt’s EGP 4 million (USD 225,000) collaborative project with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop 35 educational cube satellites to train more space scientists in Egypt. Moreover, Egypt has partnered with the US to utilise the NORAD satellite tracking to effectively monitor their satellites in orbit relative to other space objects to ensure they do not collide with other bodies. Dr Ayman also noted that the EgSA is open to collaborating with the US to improve its human capacity in satellite development (especially nanosatellites) for different applications such as agriculture, food security, water resources management, desertification, and locust tracking.

The second panellist, Charles Mwangi, spoke exhaustively about the space programmes in Kenya. First, he mentioned the satellite engineering projects within the KSA. These programmes include Kenya’s first satellite [1KUNS PF] launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in the USA, the African Development satellite project, and the Bartolomeo ClimCam Satellite. In addition, he also discussed Kenya’s earth observation programmes, including the Monitoring for Information and Decisions using Satellite Technology (MIDST) and utilising the Google earth engine to generate products for thematic areas (forest, urbanisation and flood and landslides). Charles also discussed research and outreach initiatives aimed at teaching young people about the benefits of space exploration. These initiatives include the Space Club, the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) and the Real World Design Challenge.

He also highlighted Kenya’s potential areas of collaboration with the US space ecosystem. He spoke about the potential of cooperation to establish a spaceport in Kenya that would leverage Kenya’s equatorial position to facilitate launches into different orbits. Furthermore, he discussed the possibility of partnering with a US company to manufacture satellites and launch vehicles locally in Kenya. He also noted that Kenya is willing to collaborate with the US to develop a physical or virtual ground receiving station that receives data from an EO satellite and telemetry, tracking & control (TT&C). Charles also spoke about Kenya’s ambition to grow into a knowledge-based space economy by implementing programmes aimed at human capacity development. To this end, he mentioned the research grant pledged by the KSA to develop a 3U nanosatellite model, which is worth KSH 3 million (USD 26,773) for four teams. The grant winners include the University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenyatta University and the Technical University of Kenya.

The third African panellist, Dr Martin Snow presented South Africa’s expansive space activities and its government’s investment of ZAR 4.5 billion in its space economy. He also discussed the existing launch facilities located at the Western Cape and the possibility of partnering with companies in the US to develop more capacity for missile launch pads, tracking radar, optical missile tracking systems. Furthermore, Dr Martin spoke about South Africa’s satellite projects, detailing how local private companies and universities manufactured seven out of the eight satellites launched by South Africa. He also mentioned many aerospace corporations to support satellite design and development, some of which were spinoffs of universities offering space engineering programs at Stellenbosch, Cape Town University, and Cape Peninsula University.

In addition, Dr Martin spoke extensively about the historical relationship between South Africa and the United States, especially the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), noting South Africa’s support for NASA missions beginning in the early 1960s and continuing to the present. Also, he mentioned SANSA’s space weather regional warning centre, which provides a vital service to the nation by monitoring the Sun and its activity, and providing space weather forecasts, warnings, alerts and environmental data on space weather conditions. Dr Martin also spoke of South Africa’s long-term goal to evolve from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. He mentioned SANSA had put plans in motion to develop the next generation of space engineers, space scientists, solar physicists and other related fields to ensure that South Africa has the right human resource to take charge of future space projects. He also mentioned South Africa’s goal of developing space capacities by building on existing relationships with international partners (e.g. US).

The second-panel session saw presentations from representatives of five space companies operating in the US. The panellist includes:

  1. Michael Eckert, Vice President, Commercial Sales at URSA Space Systems
  2. Mike Carey, Chief Strategy Officer at ATLAS Space Operations
  3. Luciano Giesso, Global Sales Director at Satellogic
  4. Richard DalBello, Vice President Business Development at Virgin Galactic
  5. Bruce Phillips, Vice President, Space and Transportation at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) 

Micheal Eckert discussed the avenues for possible collaboration with African countries. He mentioned that URSA provides government decision-makers access to on-demand analytic solutions through their radar satellite network and data fusion expertise. Furthermore, he noted that their custom services enable access to satellite imagery and analytical results with no geographic, political, or weather-related limitations.

Mike Carey also discussed ATLAS’ global network of 30 operational and planned low latency, cloud-integrated satellite antennas providing a secure, reliable, and scalable solution for communicating with constellations. Mike also mentioned his company’s past partnerships with African states, including ATLAS’ active ground station in Sunyani, Ghana and plans to develop another in Southern Africa. Mike also spoke about ATLAS’ launch solution, where they work to partner with clients to ensure that the processes from concept to launch are effectively monitored while controlling costs. Furthermore, ATLAS provides real-time communications and data with spacecraft from launch to on-orbit deployment. Rather than adhering to traditional launch range locations, Mike concluded that ATLAS is proud to work with customers from Africa to explore alternative launch ranges and several other business avenues.

Luciano Giesso enumerated ways of collaboration between Satellogic and African nations. In Particular, he spoke exhaustively about his company’s unique satellite as a service model. The model sees Satellogic build all the satellite components from the cameras, onboard system, and propulsion system. This they do to reduce satellite manufacturing costs, reduce the R&D cycle and create access to space for everyone. Luciano also discussed Satellogic’s existing relationships with some African companies such as Hatfield in South Africa and AgriBORA in Kenya. Luciano also underscored the importance of building space applications using local talent and his company’s commitment to implementing it. 

Richard DalBello spoke about Virgin Galactic’s offering for Africa. This includes routine cost-effective access to space, discovery flight for private astronauts, unique opportunities for microgravity research and astronaut training. Lastly, Bruce Phillips also presented SAIC’s offering to the global market ranging from engineering services to government and private sector companies, space systems development, tailored curriculum for space systems including virtual environments and AI-enhanced learning. Furthermore, he mentioned his company’s data offering for several thematic applications, including agriculture, environmental monitoring and transportation. 

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