From Kenya into Space: Why Kenya should win the renewed African space race

Written by: Julius Kimani

San Marco Space Center in Malindi, Kenya

On 26th April, 1967, an Italian owned satellite was blasted off into the outer space from Kenya, a first ‘giant leap’ for the African continent in space exploration.

With enthusiasm, the NASA trained Italian satellite and aerospace engineers began the sequence countdown to initiate ignition of American made Nike Apache sounding rocket, marking a beginning of space exploration in Kenya and Africa.

This intrepid event did thrust Italy into the few elite clubs of nations that had endeavored into the heavens, thereby making Italy the third country on the planet to rise above the earth and visit the outer space.

Kenya’s major breakthrough into space happened on the Jamhuri Day (Kenya’s independece day) of 12th Dec 1970 when the American space agency NASA, with the help of Italian Space Agency, did launch a probe satellite named “Uhuru”, the first satellite launched specifically for the purpose of X-ray astronomy.

“Uhuru” is a Swahili word meaning freedom.

The space probe was named “Uhuru” in respect and hospitality of Kenya, from where it was launched and the fact that Kenya had gained freedom of self-rule and had been declared a newly independent country from the British colonial government.

Kenya squarely lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to the east, thereby making it a perfect location for launching and landing spacecrafts.

The earth’s rotation along the equator adds momentum to space rockets launching into space from earth. hence launching a rocket along the equator is faster and burns less fuel; therefore less costly.

The Italian-Owned San Marco space center in Malindi, Kenya, has two active secondary control platforms and a communications ground station on the mainland. It happens to be the first seaport rocket launch pad in the world and the world’s first rocket launch platform located at the equator.

This is one of the few active space facility in the African continent.

Foreign space agencies such as NASA and European Space Agency exploit it for space exploration. For instance, as part of the NASA Southern Hemisphere ADditional OZonesondes (SHADOZ) project, NASA uses the San Marco space center to measures ozone data using balloon-borne ozonesondence.

In search of cosmic rays in the universe, NASA has entered into an agreement with the Italian Space Agency which will contribute the IXPE’s sophisticated “eyes” three polarization-sensitive X-ray detectors and use its equatorial ground station at Malindi in Kenya for this purpose.

Kenya happens to be the first recipient of the UNOOSA-JAXA KiboCUBE initiative, a program by the Government of Japan and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs which seeks to help developing countries such as Kenya to launch cubesats into space at no cost.

Dubbed “1KUNS-PF” (1st Kenyan University NanoSatellite-Precursor Flight), this will be Kenya’s first micro-satellite and it is expected to be launched by Japanese astronauts from the International Space Station in 2018.

On March 2018, Kenya hosted the second edition of the International Space Forum-Africa Chapter, the first space ministerial conference in Africa. In this meeting, the Italian Space Agency proposed to set up the International Space Center of Education for Africa in Kenya.

Kenya did have an excellent start in space but over the years, it ceded this position. Across the African continent, countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia and Ghana have hastily established space agencies.

It’s on 7th March 2017, that the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, through an executive order, did establish the Kenya National Space Agency (KENSA); ending a process that ran back and forth, taking over 34 years to finalize.

Kenya holds the premium title of having the highest number of satellites and rockets to be launched into space from Africa. Between 1967 to 1988, a total of 27 Italian and international satellites were launched from the Kenyan territory.

However, all is not lost. The space race is on in Africa, and Kenya has the opportunity to be a space powerhouse.

As the science fiction author, Andy Weir, did put it in his new novel released on November 2017 titled “The Martian”, that Kenya could be the heart of Moon colonization. Here is the article to it

A vibrant space industry requires a good space policy and it is in this respect I thank the Kenya’s Ministry of Defence for drafting a sound space policy to ensure that Kenya’s becomes a space fairing nation.

All the necessary requirements needed to make Kenya a space powerhouse are in place, let’s act now and thrust Kenya into the world of space exploration.

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