Excerpts from the 2024 NewSpace Africa Conference; Day Two

Attendees at the 2024 NewSpace Africa Conference

The 2024 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]. Continuing the first day, the second day featured high-level segments of keynote speeches, interactive sessions, panel discussions, B2B matchmaking, B2C matchmaking, and unique networking opportunities.

Read Excerpts from the 2024 NewSpace Africa Conference; Day One

Status Updates on African Space Agencies’ Activities – Cohort 2

The second day began on a high note with status updates on the space activities of five African countries (Burkina Faso, Egypt, Gabon and Namibia) moderated by Jessie Ndaba, the CEO of Astrofica Technologies. The speakers included Dr Mambimba Aboubakar, the Director-General of AGEOS; Dr Ouattara Frédéric, the Project Lead, BurkinaSAT-1, and Former Minister of Higher Education, Burkina Faso; Prof Islam El-Magd, the President of the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences, Egypt, and Special Advisor to the Egyptian Ministry Of Higher Education, Training and Innovation; and Dr Lisho Mundia, the Director of Research and Innovation, MEHTI Namibia.

Speakers on the panel

For his part, Dr Mambimba Aboubakar highlighted AGEOS’s initiatives and partnerships to support NewSpace companies’ growth and promote space entrepreneurship in Gabon. He emphasised the belief that innovation and research are more likely to emerge quickly from the private sector due to the challenges inherent in the public sector. To foster innovation and collaboration, AGEOS is transitioning programmes that bring startups together to learn from each other. However, Dr Aboubakar noted the importance of further developing incubators to ensure alignment and avoid duplicating efforts supporting space entrepreneurship. This approach strategically focuses on leveraging the private sector’s dynamism while fostering collaboration and efficiency within the ecosystem.

Dr Ouattara Frédéric discussed the establishment of a club for amateur radio work as part of their initiatives to promote space-related activities. By bringing people together through accelerator projects, they aimed to provide learning opportunities and showcase the potential within the country’s emerging space sector. This approach fosters community engagement and enables individuals to explore and understand the possibilities available within the country’s burgeoning space industry. Dr. Frédéric and his team seek to inspire and empower individuals to actively participate and contribute to developing their country’s space capabilities through such initiatives.

Prof. Islam El-Magd discussed establishing infrastructure and a company to commercialise government-developed facilities. Regarding attracting investors, Prof El-Magd outlined a strategy focused not on funding or grants but on ensuring mutual benefits for all customers involved. Additionally, efforts are being made to raise awareness across all levels of government regarding how space technologies can support both public and private sector entities. This approach emphasises the value proposition of space technologies and aims to foster broader adoption and utilisation across various sectors, ultimately driving economic growth and development.

Mr Lisho Namibia discussed their collaboration with Chinese partners on their ground station, located in Namibia on the outskirts of Windhoek, which has made it easier for both parties to use the station. Regarding capacity building, Chinese partners are training local personnel in Namibia to operate the station. Additionally, members from the university are part of the team and will undergo training to integrate the knowledge gained into Namibia’s educational system. Regarding strategies to attract investors to Namibia’s space ecosystem, Lisho Namibia highlighted the importance of creating a conducive environment for investment. They emphasised ensuring that all collaborations are symbiotic, meaning all parties benefit. Furthermore, efforts are being made to regulate the environment to provide stability and confidence for local and international investors. These strategies reflect a comprehensive approach aimed at fostering growth and development within Namibia’s space sector while also maximising opportunities for collaboration and investment.

Status Updates on African Space Agencies’ Activities – Cohort 3

The third panel of the space agency was moderated by Grace Mutavu, Strategic Partnerships Analyst at the Rwanda Space Agency. This panel featured speakers from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, and Senegal, who discussed their priorities and current and future space projects within their respective countries.

The panel speakers included Maram Kaire, Director-General of the Senegalese Agency for Space Studies; Ms. Thandikile Mbvundula, Taskforce Chairperson of the Malawi Space Agency; Brigadier Hillary Kipkosgey, Acting Director-General of the Kenya Space Agency (KSA); and Dr Dimane Mpoeleng, BOTSAT Project Director at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology.

Cross-section of speakers on the panel

Ms Thandikile Mbvundula outlined Malawi’s vision for collaborating with other African nations and regional organisations to advance shared goals and leverage collective resources in the space ecosystem. She emphasised the identification of key strategic partners and the initiation of projects. Furthermore, benchmarking sessions are scheduled later in the year, including discussions with Angola and South Africa to learn from their successes and adopt best practices. Additionally, partnerships with foreign entities are being sought to minimise duplications in the space programme. This approach highlights Malawi’s commitment to collaboration and knowledge sharing to maximise the impact and efficiency of its space initiatives.

Mr Mariam Kaire highlighted Senegal’s efforts to promote space education, training programmes, and capacity building to foster a skilled workforce and local expertise crucial for the long-term sustainability of the country’s space programme. She noted the intention to create strategies to incentivise young people from high school to university to spark interest in space-related fields. Collaboration with various partners has been instrumental in introducing space science curricula in high schools and universities across Senegal.

Furthermore, Mr Kaire emphasised the importance of developing infrastructure, such as the planned space centre, to align all space programmes under one umbrella. This centralisation aims to streamline efforts and minimise duplications within the space programme, ensuring efficient resource utilisation and maximising the impact of space initiatives in Senegal. These initiatives reflect Senegal’s commitment to nurturing a skilled workforce and local expertise to drive the country’s advancement in space science and technology.

Brigadier Hillary Kipkosgey emphasised the critical role of innovation in ensuring the sustainability of Kenya’s national space programme. He highlighted the intersection of policy and strategy as essential for fostering the growth of the NewSpace ecosystem within the country. To support this objective, partnerships with organisations like RIIS are leveraged, enabling initiatives such as an annual Earth Observation (EO) competition. Additionally, discussions have commenced regarding establishing an innovation hub dedicated to the space ecosystem. These efforts underscore Kenya Space Agency’s commitment to promoting space entrepreneurship and facilitating the growth of NewSpace companies in Kenya through strategic collaborations and initiatives.

Dr Dimane Mpoeleng shared insights into Botswana’s first satellite development initiative, highlighting its mission objectives, anticipated benefits, and lessons learned. He emphasised that the project has laid the groundwork for future initiatives and will serve as a feeder into future satellite projects. Despite encountering bureaucratic issues, Dr Mpoeleng stated they are determined not to let these challenges slow down. He expressed confidence that Botswana’s space programme will continue growing, with plans to develop a more extensive and structured framework in the coming years. This demonstrates Botswana’s commitment to advancing its capabilities in space technology and leveraging lessons learned to enhance future endeavours in the field.

Panel 1: Spectrum, Connectivity and Sustainability

This panel, moderated by Dr Amaro João, Flight Director, Satellite Mission Control Center, Angolan Management Office for the National Space Programme (GGPEN), explored how expanding radio frequency spectrum usage can sustainably bring Africa the benefits of space-based connectivity and observation. 

The panel featured Timothy Ashong, Managing Director of RASCOM; Diogo de Carvalho, CEO of Infrasat; Dr. Lasisi Lawal, Acting General Manager of Technical Services at NigComSat and Visiting Associate Professor; and Engr. Angelo Joao, Executive Administrator of INACOM.

Cross-section of speakers on the panel

For his part, Timothy Ashong emphasised RASCOM’s significant involvement in safeguarding spectrum connectivity across various bands and its commitment to crafting frameworks from the 2023 Dubai Spectrum conference. He outlined RASCOM’s objective of uniting satellite operators through the African Telecommunications Association to foster collaboration and enhance the competitive edge of African satellite operators globally. Moreover, Ashong stressed the need for African satellite operators to establish strategic frameworks, harmonise space policies, raise awareness, manage orbital resources, and implement capacity-building initiatives and policies to bridge the digital divide.

RASCOM serves as a hub for African operators to host their orbital infrastructure. Members within the RASCOM network benefit from convenient access to expertise, which facilitates their growth and provides necessary services. This highlights RASCOM’s pivotal role in driving collaboration, capacity building, and growth within the African satellite industry to ensure a more connected and digitally inclusive continent.

Dr Lasisi Lawal highlighted the changing landscape of spectrum dynamics, emphasising the need for collaboration among African satellite operators to cultivate expertise and repurpose spectrum for infrastructure expansion, particularly to address local challenges such as weather-related disruptions impacting communication and connectivity in aviation and emergency response. Drawing inspiration from groups like the ACNG in Arab nations, Dr Lawal pointed out the role of operators like RASCOM, NIGCOMSAT, and NILESAT in addressing issues beyond spectrum management. Additionally, Dr Lawal identified affordability and technological adaptation as primary obstacles to reaching the unconnected. To overcome these challenges, satellite operators must collaborate to lower antenna costs, boost local production, tailor satellite modems, and expand the market for DC-powered satellites within the continent. This collaborative effort aims to minimise expenses and enhance accessibility, thereby bridging Africa’s digital divide.

Mr Diogo de Carvalho underscored the importance of satellite operators collaborating with entities like the African Space Agency to maximise available resources. With the increasing number of satellite launches across African nations, there’s a rising demand for expanded bandwidth, necessitating investments in infrastructure and coordinated efforts to ensure inclusivity. Mr Carvalho stressed the need for diverse African operators to unite based on their strengths to prevent the marginalisation of any party. Moreover, African stakeholders must reassess their business models to ensure sustainability and develop strategies accordingly. Establishing governing bodies for efficient coordination is essential. Rather than solely relying on acquiring satellites from outside the continent, prioritising the enhancement of regional capacities is crucial. This holistic approach aims to foster collaboration, enhance efficiency, and promote sustainability within the African satellite industry.

Engineer Angelo Joao elaborated on the potential for collaboration among diverse African satellite operators to address localised challenges. He emphasised prioritising connectivity continuity and extending regulatory frameworks beyond telecommunications operators alone. It is crucial to involve relevant stakeholders to ensure financial stability and clearly define objectives aimed at combating poverty through domestically formulated policies for inclusive growth.

Additionally, telecommunication regulators are seeking efficiency and value for costs and demands from satellite operators. To achieve this, these regulators must collaborate to devise strategies that promote growth and address the industry’s evolving needs. By working together, African satellite operators and regulators can foster a conducive environment for sustainable development and ensure that satellite services effectively contribute to addressing socio-economic challenges across the continent.

US-Africa Session on Space Cooperation, Trade and Sustainability

The high-level discussion built upon critical takeaways from previous meetings between both parties, which had positively assessed the potential for space activities to impact people’s lives across geographical and financial boundaries. Previous meetings included the US-Africa Commercial Space Stakeholders Meeting in October 2023, the US-Africa Space Forum in December 2022, and various sector-specific webinars and programmes addressing clean energy and climate change.

This session featured distinguished speakers from both regions, including H.E. Prof Mohamed Belhocine, the Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation at the African Union Commission; Hon. Don Graves, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce; Gabriel Swiney, Director of the Policy, Advocacy, and International Division at the Office of Space Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce; Rose Croshier, Office of Space Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce; Dr. Tidiane Ouattara, Chair of the Africa Space Council at the African Union Commission; Rosalie Daniels, Foreign Affairs Officer at the Office of Space Affairs (OES/SA), U.S. Department of State; Lt. Col. Matthew Collins, Liaison to U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM), U.S. Space Command; Dr. Danielle Wood, U.S. Programme Lead at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Dr. Zolana Joao, General Manager of the Angolan Management Office for the National Space Programme (GGPEN); Heather McLeod, Senior Commercial Officer at the U.S. International Trade Administration, U.S. Embassy Luanda, Angola; Charity Weeden, Associate Administrator at the Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS), NASA; and Meshack Ndirutu, Space Applications Trainer at ESTI-AUC.

Gabriel Swiney commenced the session by highlighting the US government’s commitment to the African space programme, noting the significant representation from African governments at the conference. Following his speech, a video clip from Don Graves, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, emphasised the importance of space commerce in driving the growth of the space economy. Graves stressed its role in providing meaningful benefits and enabling African entrepreneurs and countries to utilise space-based tools for governance effectively.

Subsequently, H.E. Prof Mohamed Belhocine emphasised the need for Africa and the U.S. to strengthen their relationship to ensure inclusive growth. His speech was followed by a video clip of Bill Nelson, who highlighted the necessity for collaborative efforts for mutual benefit and interests. Nelson outlined entry points for collaboration and explored partnerships to solidify relationships, emphasising using space-based technologies to promote infrastructural growth and early warning preparedness in agriculture.

Professor Mohammed Belhocine, Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI) of the African Union, delivering his address

Rose Croshier then moderated a panel featuring Gabriel Swiney, Rosalie Daniels, Charity Weeden, and Lt Col Matthew Collins. The panel discussed US space activities through the lenses of Diplomacy, Commercial cooperation and trade, Space and Development, and US Space and Security. Each panellist highlighted initiatives, objectives, workshops, and goals, illustrating how their perspectives contribute to the African space ecosystem. The session concluded with AUC and US fireside chat discussions, further enriching the informative exchange.

Cross-section of speakers during the US-Africa Session on Space Cooperation, Trade and Sustainability

Following the previous session, another themed session moderated by Meshack Ndirutu featured all previous panellists, including Dr Tidiane Ouattara. The panel focused on synergies and concluded ongoing capacity-building initiatives that integrate youths and Africans to ensure self-sustainability and expertise. Emphasising the importance of understanding the continent’s challenges and offering tailored solutions, the panel also discussed Africa’s role as a key partner in fulfilling the vision for international collaborations and partnerships.

Cross-section of speakers during the US-Africa Session on Space Cooperation, Trade and Sustainability

During the session, the panel addressed questions regarding relevant capacity-building initiatives in Africa and their contributions to the growth of the continent’s space arena. Dr Tidiane Ouattara concluded the panel by urging African stakeholders to collaborate firmly to harness opportunities for the continent’s advancement, emphasising the importance of youth involvement in this endeavour.

Dr Danielle Wood highlighted the Angola drought support system, a collaborative effort involving the Space Enable Research Group of the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),  University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, GGPEN, and various Angolan organisations such as the National Meteorological Institute, the Ministry of Water and Energy, and the National Statistics Institute. These partnerships aim to support drought management and mitigation efforts in Angola.

Cross-section of speakers during the US-Africa Session on Space Cooperation, Trade and Sustainability

On the other hand, DOC Heather McLeod discussed her role in bridging the gap between U.S. companies interested in investing and doing business in Angola. She outlined how partnerships are established and her efforts to create points of entry for U.S. engagement in the Angolan market, emphasising mutual benefits for both countries.

The session concluded with Gabriel Swiney emphasising the sincerity of the US government in engaging in business in Africa and expanding its networks on the continent to facilitate growth and advancements in Africa’s technological landscape. This commitment reflects a broader effort to foster mutually beneficial partnerships and support the continent’s development agenda.

Following the high-level discussion, Hu Zhaobin, Deputy Director of Deep Space Exploration Lab, delivered a keynote speech outlining his company’s unique products and major technical directions. These include advanced power energy, deep space intelligent sensing and remote control, deep space TT&C, deep space resource utilisation, and advanced materials. He underscored their strategic, forward-looking research and their commitment to partnering with African countries to enhance space applications development.

Hu Zhaobin elaborated on the missions of the international lunar research station and provided updates on China’s lunar missions. He mentioned that China’s lunar mission began in 2004 with a three-step process of “orbiting, landing, and sample return,” completing five missions and seven launches thus far. Furthermore, he announced China’s plan to send a taikonaut to the moon by 2027.

Angolan Space Ecosystem: Stakeholders Perspective

The panel on the Angolan space ecosystem offered insights from key stakeholders regarding utilising space technologies across various sectors in Angola. Gilson dos Santos, Head of the Sales Department of Products and Services at the Angolan Management Office for the National Space Program (GGPEN), moderated the panel. The speakers included Yuri Silva, Board Member of Angola Telecom; Engr N’Silu Ferreira, IP and Transmission Director at Unitel; and Manuel de Jesus Venâcio Quicassa, Head of the Telecommunications Technologies Directorate at MS TELCOM.

Cross-section of speakers on the panel

Yuri Silva highlighted the significant role of Angolan telecommunications in leveraging space-based technology for growth and development. By connecting over 20,000 Angolians, the telecommunications sector ensures seamless connectivity, which is crucial in combating poverty by providing opportunities for people to connect regardless of location. He also mentioned the collaboration with GGPEN to develop a remote sensing solution, enabling the detection of specific changes and facilitating real-time mapping for swift decision-making to address potential issues. This underscores the effectiveness of space technology in telecommunications and environmental conservation, preventing service disruptions in remote areas and facilitating disaster response efforts.

Engineer N’Silu Ferreira discussed how UNITEL addresses rapid data traffic growth and increased demand for high-speed internet services by introducing the second generation of mobile networks and implementing V-SAT-based transmissions to extend broadband services to underserved areas. He also mentioned the ongoing trials of 4G networks with satellite connectivity, further enhancing connectivity and broadband services in Angola.

Mr Manuel from MSTelecoms emphasised the importance of onshore communication, particularly in remote areas with weak connectivity signals. This connectivity issue often impacts business operations, necessitating efficient remote processes. The primary goal in onshore operations is to communicate effectively with people in remote areas with limited connectivity. Collaboration with other companies in sharing services or capacity is crucial to ensure convenient services across industries while maintaining service quality. Relationships with other companies revolve around mutual understanding and support, facilitating effective communication and operations in remote areas.

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