The advocacy for increased utilisation of space in Africa has in recent years started yielding positively. However, there’s still a wide gap to cover. This gap is evident in the fact that Africa owns only 25 active satellites out of the 2,666 active artificial satellites orbiting the Earth. This figure shows that less than 1% of active satellites belong to African countries. As part of its contribution to encouraging the utilisation of, and the exploration of space, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is providing dividends of space technology to developing nations through its ‘Access to space for all’ initiative. This initiative connects veteran space actors and emerging space players in order to facilitate their usage of space and space technologies in achieving the SDG goals.
The initiative is providing developing economies with space exploration opportunities through partnership programs like: Bartolomeo Platform, Dream Chaser, DROPTES Programme, ESA Centrifuge, KIBOCUBE Programme amongst others.
Of particular importance to the Africa space development, is the Kibocube program. In September 2015, UNOOSA announced a partnership with the Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) for the ‘KIBOCUBE’ programme, to sponsor the launching of cube satellite (CubeSat) developed by selected education or research institutions on the continent. The CubeSats are launched via KIBO (the Japanese experimental module of the International Space Satellite) into low earth orbit. The Kibocube has had five recipients since inception, of which two are from Africa. The first was a team of researchers from the University Of Nairobi Kenya while the second was the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council.
Researchers from the University of Nairobi under the Kibocube program launched Kenya’s cubesat satellite (1KUNS-PF) to space. 1KUNS-PF, the country’s first satellite, was deployed to space in May 2018. The launch of this cubesat was a significant milestone in Kenya’s space exploration journey. The satellite was widely used for data collection on biodiversity, weather forecasting, disaster management, and food security.
Like Kenya, the Mauritia Research and Innovation Council (MRIC) got her first opportunity to launch a satellite to space via the Kibocube program. MRIC was selected in June 2018 to develop their MIR-SAT1. The MIR-SAT1 which was developed in collaboration with ‘AAC-Clyde space’ exposed Mauritian engineers to the process of manufacturing their satellite locally. Currently, the satellite has completed a pod fit check and is to be launched in February 2021. When deployed, data obtained from the satellite would be used for research on how to solve national problems. The opportunity created by the CubeSat projects is a door for several African countries to experience space technology.
Aside from the ‘Access to space for all’ initiative, UNOOSA also supports member nations with disaster risk reduction and management through the UN-SPIDER initiative. This initiative provides assistance in the form of technical advice, information sharing and capacity building.
Established in December 2006, UN-SPIDER has carried out a number of projects, one of which was the Technical Advisory Mission (TAM) in Tunisia earlier this year. The Mission which held in consonance with the Tunisian National Office of Civil Protection (ONPC), featured a capacity-building workshop. The workshop trained selected Tunisians on the procedures of obtaining mapping data from the SENTINEL-1 satellites using software like google earth, SNAP and QGIS. The training also educated participants on how to use satellite data and remote sensing to identify flooding patterns in the country.
Other initiatives of UNOOSA that are bridging space utilisation and exploration gap includes; the space4health initiative, space4youth initiative, space4SDG initiative, amongst others. These initiatives by the space office have and could assist African countries with space utilisation opportunities. Rather than wait for the government to provide funds, research and educational institutions in Africa could leverage these opportunities to utilise space and space technologies.
Therefore, to bridge the space utilisation gap, more African countries (and space institutions) can key into any of the aforementioned initiatives by UNOOSA, as these initiatives would help reduce the cost of space exploration.