Excerpts from the First Day of the Malawi Space Conference 2023

Attendees at the conference.

The Malawi Space Conference 2023, scheduled to be held from the 18th to the 20th of October, commenced yesterday at the Bing International Convention Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe. With the theme “Space Applications for Sustainable Development,” this event will delve into space-related opportunities to tackle Malawi’s socioeconomic challenges.

In addition, the conference aims to unite diverse stakeholders to explore and discuss the latest breakthroughs and potential within space technology and innovation. Attendees at this conference include representatives from government ministries and departments, national space agencies, commercial space companies (NewSpace companies), satellite operators, and academia. This unique national platform allows stakeholders to exchange insights, experiences, and ideas regarding space applications, products, and services and deliberate on policies that foster progress in this field.

The event kickstarted with an opening address from Mrs Mphatso Phiri, Director of Finance, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority. In her remark, Mrs Phiri underscored Malawi’s unwavering commitment to establishing a fully operational Malawi Space Agency by 2024. According to her, the ambitious endeavour reflects the nation’s dedication to advancing its space technology and satellite services capabilities. Moreover, she highlighted the relentless efforts being invested to ensure that fixed satellite services become accessible and effective throughout the entire country.

Furthermore, Mrs Phiri detailed the ongoing application process to secure new satellite slots, which is a pivotal step in bolstering Malawi’s broadcast satellite services. This initiative aligns with the country’s vision to enhance its telecommunications infrastructure and expand its reach to provide innovative services to its citizens.

The combined focus on space agency development, satellite service accessibility, and broadcasting expansion underscores Malawi’s proactive approach to harnessing the potential of space technology to benefit its people and economy. This multifaceted strategy aims to position Malawi as a regional space and satellite technology leader and promote sustainable development across various sectors.

Another address by Malawi Space Agency Taskforce Chairperson, Ms Thandi Chisala Mbvundula, followed Mrs Mphatso Phiri’s remark. Ms Thandi’s speech revolved around establishing the Malawi Space Agency and provided further insights into the process. She elucidated the intricate steps and efforts involved in laying the foundation for the agency, emphasising the importance of careful planning and international collaboration. She also discussed the agency’s objectives, including advancements in space technology and satellite development, underscoring how these pursuits would contribute to Malawi’s socio-economic development and scientific progress. Additionally, Ms. Thandi highlighted the agency’s commitment to fostering education and research in space-related fields, thus nurturing the country’s next generation of scientists and engineers. Her address served as an informative and motivating account of the task force’s journey and its pivotal role in shaping Malawi’s future in space exploration.

Following that, William Makwinja, a dedicated member of the Malawi Space Agency Taskforce and a former council member of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), delved into a comprehensive discussion of the government’s recognition of the pivotal role of space-based technologies in the pursuit of Malawi’s sustainable development goals, as outlined in its Vision 2063.

Mr Makwinja’s presentation emphasised the pivotal role of space technology and satellite systems in bolstering the agricultural sector in Malawi. He elaborated on how these advanced services, such as remote sensing and satellite imagery, could contribute to precision agriculture, enabling farmers to make data-driven decisions for crop management, irrigation, and yield optimisation. 

Moreover, in mining, Mr Makwinja highlighted the invaluable contributions of space services in mineral exploration and resource management. According to him, “satellite data and geospatial information are crucial in identifying potential mining sites, monitoring environmental impacts, and ensuring responsible mining practices. This benefits the mining industry and supports the government’s efforts to regulate and manage the country’s natural resources more efficiently.”

Another essential aspect of his discussion was the pivotal role of space technology in supporting urbanisation efforts. This includes advancing secondary cities, establishing sustainable municipal self-financing mechanisms, promoting tourism development, and strategic planning and investment in urban and town infrastructure. According to him, this comprehensive approach ensures that these urbanisation initiatives are regulated and controlled effectively and contribute to long-term growth and prosperity.

Following this, Temidayo Oniosun, the Managing Director of Space in Africa, delivered an in-depth presentation on the state of the African space industry. He placed significant emphasis on the promising prospects within Malawi for nurturing a thriving ecosystem that fosters the growth of space startups. Mr Oniosun also highlighted the ample investment opportunities for pioneering space application projects within the region. Moreover, he discussed how Malawi’s commitment to developing a robust infrastructure and supportive regulatory framework makes it an attractive destination for domestic and international investors looking to engage in the space sector.

Expanding on the investment opportunities in space applications, Mr Oniosun delved into specific projects and initiatives currently underway or in the pipeline, illustrating how these ventures can yield substantial returns for those willing to participate. He detailed the various areas within the space industry that hold promise for entrepreneurs, including satellite technology, Earth observation, telecommunications, and space-based research. In addition to highlighting opportunities, Mr Oniosun shared insights into the standard industry practices indispensable for the successful commercialisation of space ventures. He stressed the importance of collaboration, adherence to international standards, and the need for sustainable business models.

Subsequently, Phila Sibandza, a senior lecturer in the Department of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing at the University of Fort Hare, delivered a presentation on the utilisation of space applications for local disaster management and flood monitoring, with a focus on the specific case of the Malawi floods. Through his presentation, he shed light on innovative approaches and strategies that leverage available spatial data to enhance the mitigation and response efforts during such calamities. Mr Sibandza’s expertise and the relevance of his case study enlightened the audience and underscored the profound impact of space technologies in addressing critical issues like disaster management.

The conference is in full swing at BICC in Lilongwe and will continue until tomorrow. It provides a platform for numerous high-level discussions to foster national capabilities development within Malawi. These discussions focus on optimising space-based technologies to drive sustainable growth. Topics include satellite applications for agriculture, environmental monitoring, telecommunications, and more. Through these dialogues and knowledge-sharing, the conference aims to empower Malawi to leverage space technology as a catalyst for economic growth and environmental sustainability.