The South African Space Agency (SANSA) is set to coordinate the development of a pan-African satellite constellation, known as the Africa Resource Management Constellation (ARMC), a quadri-partite collaboration between Algeria, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
The ARMC partner countries agreed to launch one satellite each, forming a constellation of four Earth observation (EO) satellites in space with the same payloads, providing coverage and data for the management of resources in Africa.
The idea of the ARMC was introduced at the U.N Workshop on Disaster Management in July 2002 at Addis Ababa, where experts agreed that resource management was an alternative to disaster management in Africa. Following the success of the User Requirements Consultations in 2003, Algeria and Nigeria initiated membership in 2004. Kenya and South Africa joined the partnership the following year.
In 2009, the four countries agreed on the road-map as well as specifications for the project and officially kicked off its implementation.
While these countries still maintain their national space programmes, plans for the ARMC had stalled in 2013 due to leadership changes in some of the partner countries, according to a statement released by SANSA.
Nigeria has already launched the NigeriaSat-2 Earth observation in 2011 for the constellation. Algeria is developing Alsat-3 which is planned for launch in 2020, while South Africa is planning to launch EO-Sat1 by 2021.
SANSA Chief Executive Officer, Val Munsami, has been keen on restoring the ARMC, motivated by his belief in a concerted African effort towards maximising the benefits of space exploration.
“When I took over the agency, one of the things I thought was necessary, from a continental perspective, was to bring that constellation back to life,” Munsami says. “The whole idea is to have a set of satellites in a constellation around the earth that will help us access the continent’s resources.”
In November 2018, the respective space agencies of the partner countries met at Abuja in Nigeria to revitalise the constellation. These space agencies once again committed to the project and agreed to abide by the founding vision from 2009.
“It is quite important that this constellation becomes a reality, because we need this for the African continent,” Munsami says. “Each of the countries will have a strategic role to play in leading the satellite and space sector in Africa.”
SANSA engineers are building a central data tube that will contain the collective knowledge of the four partner agencies, ahead of a new ARMC kick-off meeting involving the heads of the space agencies, to be hosted by SANSA later in 2019.
According to SANSA, Munsami plans to conduct a “technology road-mapping exercise, which will go further than the constellation itself.”
ARMC will have an integrated ground station, where satellite data will be processed and made readily available to end-users all over the continent in near real-time.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Editor at Space in Africa. He writes about Africa’s NewSpace companies and emerging national space programs.