Excerpts from the 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference; Day Three

The third day of the 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference built on the success of the previous days to continue high-level discussions highlighting the experiences and uptake of space innovation, technologies, and applications among different stakeholders. 

In addition, Day 3 also brought a mix of keynote speeches, interactive sessions, panel discussions, B2B matchmaking, B2C matchmaking, and networking opportunities to keep the conversation flowing and engage participants differently. Stéphane Konan, the former advisor at the Ministry of Defense, Côte d’Ivoire and Founder of Shield, delivered the first keynote discussing space security landscape in Africa.

He explored the space security landscape in Africa and noted that although it is relatively new, it is rapidly evolving, with many African countries now looking to establish their space programmes, and this has led to an increased focus on space security issues across the continent.

According to him, “space technologies are vulnerable to a range of natural and deliberate risks. Space weather and debris are among the natural risks that can cause damage to space systems. However, calculated risks are also a concern, as all space system components can be targeted. For example, satellite ground stations and communication links are often the targets of electromagnetic and cyber interference originating from Earth. These attacks can be electromagnetic interference that disrupts or jams satellite communications, or cyber-attacks that use software and network techniques to disrupt computer systems that control satellites.” He concluded that Africans need to ensure that the space policies and regulations are as holistic as possible to mitigate the threats to their national security.

Policies and Regulations for Accelerating Industry Growth

The panel session moderated by Meshack Ndiritu, Space Applications Training Officer, African Union Commission, explored the need for the creation of enabling national space policies and regulations to create synergies between government and commercial space efforts, the gaps in the general national space policies, ease of doing business in different African countries and progressive regulatory frameworks to aid economic growth and business development on the continent. 

                    Meshack Ndiritu, Space Applications Training Officer, African Union Commission
Dr Peter Martinez, Executive Director of the Secure World Foundation; Julia Selman Ayetey, Dean of the Faculty of Law, the University of Cape Coast, Ghana; Dr Arlette Tanga, Founder, African Association of Air and Space Law (AADAS); Mike-Alec Kearney, CEO: CubeSpace; and Etim Offiong Head of the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) Division, ARCSSTE-E)

While commenting on the level of R&D development in Africa, Mike noted that while there is still a long way to go, there are some encouraging signs that the African space industry is starting to receive more investment and attention, which could lead to increased R&D investment in the future. He also disclosed that instead of solely focusing on policy and foreign investment, there should be a greater emphasis on supporting entrepreneurs and developing industries within Africa to ensure that job opportunities are available for individuals who receive training to invest their education/training worthwhile.

Etim provided more context to Africa’s heavy reliance on external organisations like the UN for research-based programmes, funding, and expertise. However, he noted that there had been a growing recognition of the importance of developing local research capabilities and expertise to address African countries’ unique challenges, with more organisations building the necessary infrastructure to actualise it.

While speaking on the need for a more comprehensive approach to sustainable development, Etim opined that space technologies may not be the best or most appropriate solution for Africa’s challenges. While there are undoubtedly many benefits to space technologies, such as satellite imaging for agriculture or weather forecasting, it is important to recognise that they may not be able to address every issue African countries face. “Sustainable development requires a comprehensive approach considering social, economic, and environmental factors. Therefore, while space technologies may be useful in some cases, other tools and approaches can be more effective in promoting sustainable development,” Etim concluded.

Dr Arlette spoke on the relevance of law to the space ecosystem. According to her, a law department could play a role in helping to optimise the space market in Africa. “Space law is an important area of expertise that deals with the legal and regulatory framework surrounding space activities, including satellite launches, telecommunications, and remote sensing. Furthermore, a law department with expertise in space law could help African countries navigate the complex legal landscape surrounding space activities and develop policies and regulations that promote responsible and sustainable use of space resources.”

Julia discussed the vital role of universities in providing the necessary data and research to support the growth of the space industry in Africa. In her account, by conducting research and gathering data, universities can provide valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities facing the African space industry and help identify areas where investment and policy changes are needed. In addition, Julia mentioned that grants and funding for academic research are crucial for supporting these efforts and that by making funds available for research, universities can help attract and retain top talent and provide resources for cutting-edge research and development.

In replicating the success of thriving companies in the space industry, she noted that several laws and policies could be implemented or reviewed to help promote growth and innovation. For example, governments can enforce policies encouraging private sector investment in the space industry or create tax incentives for companies investing in space-related R&D.

Dr Martinez spoke extensively about revamping and updating African policies to accommodate space actors. In his remark, Dr Martinez explained that “there are some challenges facing the implementation of space policies in Africa. One major challenge is the lack of financial and technological resources to support the development and implementation of space programs. This has limited the capacity of African countries to develop their own satellite technologies and infrastructure. Another challenge is some African governments’ lack of political will and commitment to space programmes. This has resulted in limited funding for space programs and a lack of coordination and collaboration among African countries. Therefore, while the space policies in Africa are designed to address the issues of congestion, sustainability, and profitability in space, implementing these policies still needs to be improved. More efforts need to be made to provide financial and technological resources to support space programs in Africa, and governments need to show more commitment and political will to ensure the success of these programs. Additionally, collaboration and coordination among African countries and other international space agencies must be enhanced to improve the overall effectiveness of space policies in Africa.”

Advancing Public-private Partnerships and International Collaborations

This panel, moderated by Rorisang Moyo, Industry Analyst, Space in Africa, focused its discussion on the concerns of private partners, with the panellist sharing international experience on PPP and international partnerships in other regions, highlighting booming African space industry PPP and collaboration, and sharing the next steps to improving international collaborations in the African space industry.

Rorisang Moyo, Industry Analyst, Space in Africa; Dr Robert van Zyl, Managing Director of its affiliate, AAC Space Africa; Hazuki Mori, Expert, Space Applications Section, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA); Andiswa Mlisa, Former Acting CEO of South African National Space Agency; and Dr Jean-Denis Gabikini, Head of Economic Development, Integration and Trade, African Union Commission.

The panellist on the panel included Dr Jean-Denis Gabikini, Head of Economic Development, Integration and Trade, African Union Commission; Dr Robert van Zyl, Managing Director of its affiliate, AAC Space Africa; Andiswa Mlisa, Former Acting CEO of South African National Space Agency, Hazuki Mori Expert, Space Applications Section, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

Dr Jean-Denis commented on the vital role of space agencies in promoting international collaborations. According to him, space agencies serve as a platform for countries to work together towards a common goal in space exploration and technology. In addition, they provide a means for sharing resources, knowledge, and expertise. “In Africa, collaboration between countries is vital for developing the space sector. This can lead to more efficient use of resources and avoid duplication of efforts. The African Union has recognised the importance of cooperation in the space sector and has established the African Space Policy and Strategy. However, intergovernmental organisations may face challenges in partnering with private companies. One of the significant challenges is ensuring that the private company’s interests align with the organisation’s objectives. Furthermore, private companies are profit-oriented, primarily motivated to maximise their profits. Therefore, they may not be willing to invest in projects that may not yield immediate returns,” Dear Jean-Denis concluded.

Dr Robert van Zyl discussed the relevance of technology transfer and capacity building in advancing public-private partnerships and international collaborations in the African space industry. He explained that “technology transfer can enable African space industry players to access the latest technological innovations from other countries. This can help them to develop new products and services, improve existing ones, and become more competitive in the global market. In addition, capacity building can help to develop the skills and expertise of African space industry professionals. This can include satellite design and development training, space systems engineering, and space policy and regulation. Also, public-private partnerships can leverage the expertise and resources of both the public and private sectors to achieve common goals. Technology transfer and capacity building can facilitate these partnerships by enabling the sharing of knowledge, skills, and resources.”

Andiswa Mlisa explored the role of PPPs in promoting research and development (R&D) by combining the resources and expertise of both the public and private sectors. She explained that  “PPP can provide important opportunities for R&D. For example, partnerships between space agencies and technology innovation startups can help to promote the development of new space technologies and applications. Similarly, private financing can also boost African space startups, allowing them to pursue ambitious R&D projects and bring innovative products and services to market. In addition, the growing recognition of the value of space geospatial data in Africa presents significant opportunities for R&D and can help to facilitate the collection, analysis, and dissemination of this data, which can be used to support a wide range of applications, from agriculture to disaster management.”

Hazuki Mori commented on UNOOSA’s focus on providing opportunities for countries to access and benefit from space. She remarked that “partnerships with space agencies, universities, and research institutions can help achieve this goal. Also, lessons learned from previous experiences can be valuable in designing requirements, implementing solutions, and validating them. It’s important to take a structured approach to requirements gathering, involving stakeholders from different areas, such as engineering, business, and policy. This can help ensure that the requirements are comprehensive and reflect the needs of all stakeholders. However, in terms of implementation, it’s important to have a clear plan with timelines, milestones, and deliverables, as effective project management can help ensure the project stays on track and within budget. It’s also important to have a process for managing risks and issues that may arise during the implementation phase.”

Doing Space Business in Africa – our Experience and Perspective 

This panel, moderated by Anna Aikohi, Chief Operating Officer of Space in Africa, explored the potential for collaboration and partnerships between African space businesses and their international counterparts. This session aims to provide valuable insights and lessons learned to those interested in investing, working, or starting a space business in Africa.

From (L-R) Anna Aikohi, Chief Operating Officer of Space in Africa; Bruno Parenti, Head of Governmental Export, Space Systems; and Gonzalo Lopez-Casanueva, International Sales & Business Development Manager for Africa, SATLANTIS

Bruno spoke about Airbus’ involvement in Africa, citing several examples of countries where the company has done business, including Angola and Nigeria. In his remark regarding the readiness of African states to space, Bruno noted that “the African continent is gradually becoming ready to participate in the space race. Many African countries are increasingly investing in space programs; some have even launched satellites. However, much must be done to create a conducive environment for the space industry to thrive. This includes investing in training space engineers and technicians, developing regulatory frameworks, and building the necessary infrastructure. One of the significant challenges space systems face in Africa is the lack of adequate funding. Many African countries have limited resources, and there is often stiff competition for funding between different sectors. Additionally, there may be a lack of political will to invest in the space industry, as some politicians may not see it as a priority. Creating a collaborative ecosystem involving government agencies, the private sector, and academia is essential to overcome these challenges. Collaboration can help mobilise the necessary resources and expertise to develop and implement space programs. In addition, African countries can partner with other countries and international organisations to fund and implement space projects.”

On his part,  Gonzalo highlighted that continuity of space strategy is critical for the long-term success of any space programme, and without that, it becomes challenging to maintain momentum, and space projects may not achieve their full potential. Furthermore, in the new space era, there are opportunities for new players to enter the market. However, continuity is still essential to ensure that these players can build on existing successes and take the industry forward. 

“In Africa, one of the challenges faced by the space industry is a lack of coordination. This is a global challenge, but it is particularly acute in Africa due to the limited resources available. Coordination is essential to avoid duplication of efforts, share resources, and ensure that projects are aligned with national and regional development goals. Other challenges faced by the space industry in Africa include limited funding, inadequate infrastructure, and a shortage of skilled personnel. These challenges can be addressed through partnerships with other countries and organisations, investment in education and training, and a regulatory environment encouraging private sector participation. To overcome these challenges, African countries need to prioritise the development of the space industry and create an environment that supports innovation and entrepreneurship. This includes investing in research and development, developing regulatory frameworks that support private sector participation, and building the necessary infrastructure to support space activities,” Gonzalo submitted.

Investments and Funding for Private Sector Development in Africa: opportunities, lessons learned

The panel moderated by Dr Jean-Denis Gabikini, Head of Economic Development, Integration and Trade, AUC, discussed how African NewSpace companies could exploit the available opportunities for startup investments in Africa, take apart the barriers and challenges limiting the ecosystem, and share insights about the impact and management of investments and funding in existing NewSpace startups in Africa.

The panellist included Dr Jean-Denis Gabikini, Head of Economic Development, Integration and Trade, African Union Commission; Christopher Luwanga, Founder, Galamad Aerospace; Johannes Du Toit, Founder and CEO of Simera Group, and in particular, Simera Sense., Professor George Wiafe Marine Scientist, Prof Issouf SOUMARÉ Director, Laboratory for Financial Engineering of Université Laval (LABIFUL)

While discussing how startups can tap into global funding opportunities, Christopher remarked that while it is valuable to have specialised knowledge, it is also essential to be aware of what everyone else knows, particularly in an increasingly interconnected world.  “African countries must develop innovative products in the space ecosystem to drive economic growth and address development challenges. Creating a culture of innovation is an excellent approach to encourage people to think about the next big thing in the space industry. Furthermore, by fostering a culture of creativity and risk-taking, companies can create an environment encouraging employees to develop new ideas and approaches. This can lead to the development of innovative products and services that potentially transform the space industry in Africa,” he concluded.

For his part, Johannes opined that creating a culture of innovation is essential for driving the development of the space industry in Africa, and by encouraging employees to think creatively and take risks, providing relevant training programmes, collaboration opportunities, and recognition incentives, NewSpace companies can develop innovative products and services that have the potential to transform the industry. 

While commenting on the best way to advise investors to release funding for innovative startups on the content, Professor George disclosed that “investing in startups can be risky, but it can also offer significant rewards if successful, which is why it is essential to conduct thorough due diligence before investing and understand the potential risks and returns of the investment. He added that having a long-term perspective and being patient with the investment is also essential.

Investors can also consider investing in established companies in the space industry with a proven track record and a solid business plan. These companies may offer a lower risk profile and provide steady returns over the long term. In addition, when investing in the space industry in Africa, it is essential to consider the unique challenges and opportunities in the region. Investors should look for companies that are focused on addressing development challenges and have a plan for sustainable growth. Additionally, it is vital to consider partnerships and collaborations that can help drive innovation and growth. In terms of scaling up struggling startups, investors can consider providing mentorship, guidance, and access to networks and resources to help the company grow. It is important to work with the startup to develop a clear growth plan and ensure the company has the necessary resources to achieve its goals.”

Prof Issouf gave some advice to start-ups looking to raise funding. He disclosed that when seeking financing, it is crucial for startups to clearly articulate their project and goals in a way that potential investors can understand, outlining the problem the startup is trying to solve, the target market, the unique value proposition, and the potential for growth and return on investment. “Startups should also be prepared to answer tough questions from investors, such as how they plan to scale the business, their competitive advantage, and how they plan to mitigate risks. It is also crucial for startups to do their due diligence and research potential investors before approaching them. This includes understanding the investor’s investment philosophy, previous investments, and return expectations,” Prof Issouf concluded.

The Role of Satellites in Building a Connected Africa

The panel, moderated by Hamed Gamal, Founder of African Space Access, discussed Africa’s under-connectivity and analysed how to provide strong connections on a continent where most lands are landlocked. Also, discussions will highlight how 5G networks can foster the creation of initiatives and programmes and ways of minimising the expenses and obstacles of adopting the network.

The panellist included Gilles Thierry Beugré, Director General of the National Agency for Universal Telecommunications Service (ANSUT); Dr Abimbola Alale, Former Managing Director, NigComSat; Dr Zolana Joao, General Manager Angolan Space Management Office; Mamadou Sarr, Managing Director, RASCOM.

Dr Abimbola spoke about how access to infrastructure, such as internet connectivity and other essential services, remains challenging in many African rural areas. In her remark, she mentioned that while Starlink and other new technologies like IoT have the potential to improve connectivity in these areas, affordability remains a crucial challenge for many people. In addition, she added that governments need to prioritise investment in basic infrastructure, including internet connectivity, to improve access to education, healthcare, and other critical services.

“Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can play a crucial role in facilitating investment in infrastructure projects. By leveraging the resources of both the public and private sectors, PPPs can help to build the backbone infrastructure needed to connect rural areas to the rest of the country. Ultimately, it is essential for governments to recognise the importance of infrastructure as a public good and to prioritise investment in these projects accordingly. Furthermore, with the right strategies and investments, the new space industry and other technologies can help to bridge the digital divide and improve access to critical services in rural areas.”

In his remark on the same subject, Dr Zolana Joao commented that while only a few countries currently offer affordable internet, efforts should be made to expand access and reduce consumer costs. In addition, he opined that satellite technology could effectively provide internet access in rural areas where traditional terrestrial infrastructure may not be feasible. However, the cost of launching and maintaining satellites can be high, impacting consumers’ affordability of internet services.

Dr Zolana added that “collaboration between stakeholders, including governments, private companies, and local communities, is crucial to improving African connectivity. By working together, stakeholders can leverage their strengths and resources to build a sustainable ecosystem for internet access that benefits everyone. In addition to satellite technology, other innovative solutions, such as community-based networks and shared infrastructure, can help expand internet access in rural areas while keeping costs low. Ultimately, a multi-pronged approach that combines various technologies and strategies will be needed to achieve universal connectivity in Africa.”

Mamadou Sarr also opined that satellite technology has a significant role in connecting people across Africa. It can help bridge the digital divide, particularly in remote and rural areas where traditional infrastructure is not available or feasible. In addition, collaboration and resource-sharing among stakeholders are vital to making satellite technology more affordable and accessible across the continent. This can involve governments, private companies, and local communities working together to build and maintain satellite infrastructure.

Optimising Regional Blocs for Innovation and Development in the African Space Industry

This panel session, moderated by Andre Nonguierma, Chief of the Geospatial Information Management Section, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, focused on the need for regional space blocs in Africa and their influence on creating sustainable NewSpace ecosystems in various African regions and stimulating national investments in more profound space science research and exploration.

From (L-R) Dr Mahama Ouedraogo, Former Director of the Department of Education Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI), African Union Commission; Andre Nonguierma, Chief of the Geospatial Information Management Section, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa; Dr El-Hadi Gashut, Director-General, the Regional Center for Remote Sensing of North Africa States, CRTEAN; Mamadou Sarr, Managing Director, RASCOM; Dr Zolana Joao, General Manager, Angolan Space Management Office; and Dr Emmanuel Nkurunziza, Director General of the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD).

All the panellists agreed that Africans could utilise regional blocs to collaborate with other regions and countries in the space ecosystem, and technology transfer can be a critical factor in making these collaborations successful. They further submitted that By developing a solid foundation in space technology, Africans could create their space applications and contribute to and learn from the experiences of other countries and regions.

In addition, they highlighted the need to understand that technology transfer isn’t just about copying what others have done. Instead, they explained that learning from their experiences and applying that knowledge to create new solutions and approaches tailored to local needs and conditions. It requires a deep understanding of the underlying principles and technologies and a willingness to collaborate and share knowledge.