The 2022 NewSpace Africa Conference commenced yesterday 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 day, the second day consisted of high-level segments of keynote speeches, interactive sessions, panel discussions, B2B matchmaking, B2C matchmaking, startup pitch competition and unique networking opportunities.
Dr Val Munsami, Chancellor of International Space University, delivered the first keynote address, which focused on defining the space ecosystem. According to Dr Val, the entire space ecosystem is built around space laws, policies and strategies upon which everything else is developed. In addition, Dr Val explained that piecing together the ecosystem is not simple as it requires navigating among these pieces. “The consolidation of these pieces makes up for the success or failure of such an ecosystem,” said Dr Val. Furthermore, Dr Val explained that one of the fundamental aspects of developing the ecosystem is building the right value chain. Also, he noted the ripple effect of a faulty value chain on the entire African space industry.
First panel session: Heads of Space Agencies
Temidayo Oniosun, the managing director of Space in Africa, served as the moderator for the heads of space agencies panel.
Colonel Francis Ngabo
Colonel Francis Ngabo kicked off the panel session with an overview of the Rwandan Space Agency. He noted some of the country’s space milestones, including Rwanda’s first satellite, the establishment of the space agency and subsequently, the Rwandan geospatial hub. Col Francis also noted that the agency was working on national space legislation and policy, which would be ready later this year. Furthermore, he opined that the democratisation of space had made it possible for a country like Rwanda to leverage the benefits of space applications for the nation’s sustainable development.
Furthermore, Col Francis mentioned the importance of the private sector in the development of the space ecosystem in Rwanda. He also noted the agency prioritises human capacity development and innovation to develop a self-sustaining ecosystem. To this end, he concluded his speech with a passionate call to action for investors to potentially invest in the nation’s space programme.
In his speech, Mr Fernand Bale discussed that the Côte d’Ivoire Geographic and Digital Information Center (CIGN) operates under the National Office of Technical Studies and Development (BNETD), an agency that designs, implement and monitors public projects in Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, he discussed that BNETD areas of expertise include transport, infrastructure and environment; building and spatial planning; agriculture and GIS; Innovation; Economy, finance, and industrialisation; and training. CIGN is the country’s national mapping agency and handles the GIS arms of BNETD.
Mr Fernand explained that with about 100 employees and no government budget, CIGN contributes 10% of the annual revenue of BNETD [USD 60 million]. According to him, this revenue comes from implementing geospatial projects for government institutions and the private sector across the country. According to Mr Bale, CIGN is currently working on a national geospatial policy to better implement space application projects in the country and aims to further engage in training, capacity development and innovations.
In addition, he mentioned that CIGN has implemented an integrated geospatial and statistics framework in Côte d’Ivoire and contributes to the Africa Geoportal in collaboration with ESRI. Also, he said that CIGN gathers datasets helpful in planning social, economic and government activities to improve government programs (such as infrastructure development, access to education and healthcare), fighting poverty and climate change and improving the people’s lives in Côte d’Ivoire.
Dr Gayane Faye
He began by giving an overview of the Senegal space programme, noting that its primary mission was to build a space sector where the private sector and academia play essential roles by collaborating to enhance the growth of the entire space ecosystem in Senegal. He also noted that the country was actively working to develop the Senegalese space agency, which would become operational in a short while. In addition, Dr Gayane stressed the importance of capacity development and disclosed that local engineers were currently working on the nation’s first satellite, which would be launched in H2 2023.
Dr Doreen Agaba
Dr Doreen Agaba is the technical lead of the Department of Aeronautics and Space Science at the Science Technology and Innovation Secretariat, Uganda. Dr Doreen joined virtually from Kampala and started her presentation by explaining the hierarchical nature of the organisation. Then, she disclosed that Uganda would launch its first satellite, the PearlAfricaSat-1, in 2022; as an earth observation satellite. She noted that the satellite is the latest mission from the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite project. This initiative began in October 2019 as part of a directive by Uganda’s President to develop a National Space Agency and Institute.
Furthermore, Dr Doreen noted that the secretariat is rebranding some ground assets and facilities to work as ground stations for the satellite. Finally, she discussed the corollary effects of launching a satellite and noted that they were in the process of applying those effects.
During the Q&A session, Temidayo asked Mr Fernand about the organisation’s revenue generation.
Mr Fernard explained that CIGN’s revenue comes from implementing geospatial projects for government institutions and the private sector across the country.
Also, Temidayo asked Col. Francis about the agency’s investment in the OneWeb project and satellite filing for 27 orbital shells with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). According to the Colonel, the agency invested in OneWeb because they believe the space sector is a booming sector and that OneWeb was strategically positioned to help the country’s space development agenda. However, he explained that the ITU filing was carried out for a satellite operator (Espace) rather than the government itself.
Furthermore, regarding Rwanda’s vision for improving the synergy between the government and private space actors, Col Francis noted that Rwanda aims to provide an enabling environment with the right policy frameworks. Lastly, Col Francis reiterated that Rwanda’s upcoming space legislation would provide avenues that support and attract private sector participation.
Second panel session: Innovations for connectivity – addressing the continent’s digital divide
This panel session focused on the causative agents of the digital gap in Africa and ways to leverage satellite technologies to tackle this problem. Grace Mutavu, a strategic partnerships analyst at the Rwanda Space Agency, moderated the session.
Alma Okpalefe, NigComSat’s company secretary/legal adviser, started by noting the concept of the digital divide and the reasons for this divide. According to her, she categorised these reasons to include gender, generation and location. Then, she went a step further to define the link between these reasons and possible methods of reducing the digital gap in Africa.
Speaking also on the subject, the Managing Director of RASCOM, Mamadou Sarr, also opined that this divide could be traced to the gap between countries in Africa that have launched active satellites to African countries without satellites. Therefore, he advised that Africa’s effort to reduce the digital divide needs to be centralised to ensure that these efforts lead to a comprehensive solution for the entire continent.
Dr Zolana Joao took a more practical approach. He gave an anecdote about the Angolan infrastructural history resulting from the war that plagued the Southern African country until 2002. According to him, this war had adverse effects on the infrastructure of Angola, resulting in the need to focus on infrastructural development across several sectors, including the telecommunication sector. Dr Joao explained Angola’s reason for choosing satellite communication because it was the fastest and the most cost-effective method to connect Angola (especially in the last mile).
Grace also asked the panellist to share their thoughts on the best connectivity option between terrestrial and satellite methods in bridging the digital gap.
Dr Joao noted Africa needs a bridge between both methods depending on the deployment area. He mentioned that the Angolan government has invested in terrestrial and satellite communication infrastructure because both solutions are complementary and can be deployed concurrently to ensure that the solution is as comprehensive as possible. According to him, Angola has invested in three subsea fibre networks. However, relying solely on fibre optic cables has been challenging as it isn’t the most appropriate method to connect people living in hard to get areas.
Mamadou Sarr opined that it was easy to determine where to leverage fibre optic cables and where to employ satellite connectivity. He, however, noted that satellite connectivity is becoming more and more essential and cannot be relegated as a backup to fibre cables. Mamadou Sarr eventually concludes that both forms of internet connectivity complement one another.
Alma Okpalefe noted that satellite capacity has become cheaper over the years, especially as one does not necessarily need to launch a satellite to enjoy the dividends of space. According to her, this change has necessitated the development of updated business models for satellite communication projects in Africa.
Panel 3: Small satellites – opportunities, risks and potentials for Africa
This session was moderated by Bethelhema Girma, an assistant researcher at the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI).
The General Manager of Simera Sense, Ana-Mia Louw, discussed the benefits of launching small satellites and the potential opportunities for the development of the African continent. According to her, small satellites have seen a remarkable adoption within Africa which can be directly linked to the advancement in technology that has brought down the cost of building and launching satellites.
Dr Taiwo Tejumola, an assistant professor of space systems engineering at the International Space University, made it known that historically, small satellites are tools for capacity building in tertiary institutions to get hands-on knowledge about space system engineering. He added that Africans could also take advantage of several intergovernmental opportunities to ensure that each country builds the necessary human capacity to take charge of satellite design and development.
Regarding the risks associated with small satellite development, the CEO of New Space Systems, James Barrington-Brown, discussed that small satellite development projects should be utilised to develop a more vibrant space ecosystem. Even for countries with limited experience with robust satellite design and planning, the small satellite project should be targeted to kickstart a sustainable space programme with a minimum budget.
Also, Rose Wanjiku Njogu-Mwangi, the project lead and systems engineer, SayariLabs Limited, explained that, on the one hand, we have space technologies and the promise of sustainable development in Africa. But on the other hand, there are emerging countries on the continent and governments who can not justify spending on space projects to their countrymen because there are more pressing concerns to deal with.
However, with the introduction of small satellites, it is more plausible when weighed against the dividends of such explorations. In addition, she added that space technologies (satellites and space derived data) could improve several value chains within numerous industries, including agriculture, forestry, security, and many more.
Speaking on the risks of small satellites development, Dr Taiwo explained that more than 60% of the satellite projects have not been able to attain the mission goals for small classroom satellites. However, Dr Taiwo noted that this is not much of a problem for academia because it serves as a learning curve for future satellite projects. Furthermore, he also pointed out that this might be difficult for commercial companies, as access to funds might be more challenging to get.
Regarding the opportunities and trends of small satellite development in Africa, Dr Taiwo mentioned that several African countries had leveraged their first small satellite development deal to kickstart their space ecosystem in the last five years. Furthermore, Dr Taiwo opined that it is essential to incorporate local universities into these programmes so that African states can advance the local research being done in their local communities. Lastly, he noted that Africans need to create more synergies between all concerned space parties so that we can improve the small satellite industry.
Fourth panel session: Space for sustainable development in Africa
Viola Otieno, an Earth observation expert at the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), moderated this panel session.
Alex Fortescue, Maxar’s sales manager in Africa, discussed how Maxar focuses primarily on leveraging space solutions for sustainable development. Also, he mentioned Maxar’s project with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide satellite solutions to Nigeria to fight polio. In addition, Alex also discussed Maxar’s interest in leveraging space technology for climate action and disaster response and increased preparedness of countries against climate events.
Similarly, Dr Minoo Rathnasabapathy, a research engineer at the Space Enabled Research Group at the MIT Media Lab, explained that her organisation seeks to ensure equitable distribution of space data and assets across developing states. In addition, Dr Minoo helps coordinate projects in collaboration with international development organisations, national governments and entrepreneurial companies to utilise space technology to support the sustainable development goals. She also leads efforts to establish the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the European Space Agency. Finally, Dr Minoo discussed the interconnectedness of the SDGs and the need to ensure that these goals are addressed collectively as a unit.
Dr Jane Bemigisha, Founder & Executive Director, ESIPPS International Ltd, shared her view by highlighting one major hindrance to the adoption of space for sustainable development. Notably, in the private sector, Dr Jane believes that fragmentation and duplication of efforts are major hindrances as this reduces the efficiency of sustainable development programmes in Africa.
Also speaking on the bottlenecks hindering the adoption of space for sustainable development, Dr Halilu Shaba (Director-General, National Space Research and Development Agency) noted that a bottleneck could be attributed to the infancy of space development in Africa, leading to decision-makers’ inability to understand the role of space in SDGs.
Fifth panel session: Newspace for satellite navigation and EO development
Meshack Kinyua Ndiritu, a space applications training officer at the African Union Commission (AUC), moderated this panel session.
Regarding the roles of Satellite-based Augmentation System (SBAS) in the future of Africa’s space industry, ASECNA’s Director of Operations, Bakienon Louis, noted that SBAS would make it easier for Africans to enjoy seamless airline operations, including reduced travelling costs, more air travel clients, and safety of flights and passengers.
Engr. Dr Lawal Lasisi Salami, Acting General Manager in the Directorate of Technical Services, NigComSat, discussed the importance of a cloud-based airline management system, which the SBAS provides. He also explained that the augmentation system is essential for Africa.
Semou Diouf, Director, SatNav Africa Joint Programme Office (JPO), explained that the JPO currently has two main operational objectives – to ensure the development of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and the implementation and adoption of Satellite Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) services across the African continent.
Giao-Minh NGUYE, the CEO of Promethee, highlighted the importance of understanding where Africa is now in terms of policy, infrastructures and other parameters before thinking about a comprehensive solution to tackle the problem.
The final event was the pitch deck competition of the NewSpace Africa Startup Pitch Competition 2022. The five finalists had the opportunity to pitch their businesses to the entire audience, and the winner would be announced on the last day of the conference.
Mustapha has a strong relationship with written words and enjoys elaborating on minor details with a plethora of information.