Kenya’s Expansive Space Ambitions

The United Nations (UN), through its initiative on space applications implemented by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), are co-organizing the 28th workshop on space technology for socio-economic benefits. The theme adopted for the event was “Space Exploration – A source of Inspiration, Innovation and Discovery”. 

The workshop focuses on providing space emerging countries with capacity building opportunities in using space science, technologies and applications for space exploration to support sustainable economic, social and environmental development. Ms Olivia Mwaniki, an aerospace engineer at the Kenyan Space Agency (KSA), spoke at the event. She discussed the agency’s mandate focused on promoting, coordinating and regulating space-related activities in the country. Furthermore, she explained that the KSA hopes to achieve its mandates by promoting research and innovations in space science, technology and respective applications and enhancing the country’s space regulatory framework. 

According to her, Kenya’s involvement in space activities started in 1962 when the Republic of Italy identified a vital Kenyan natural resource which is the combination of a continent’s east coast that lies on the equator. This led to an agreement between the two nations, followed by establishing the San Marco Satellite Launching and Tracking Station at Ngomeni, Malindi. The Kenyan government has ever since recognized the importance and direct dividends attainable from space studies. As a result, Kenya formed the National Space Secretariat (NSS) in June 2009, before establishing a dedicated space agency, the KSA, in 2017.

Furthermore, Olivia mentioned some of the important activities currently being undertaken by the agency. They include:

  • The launch of an imagery nanosatellite, the 1KUNS-PF Nanosatellite, in 2018.
  • Development of drone systems to support mapping, heavy lifting, ground-truthing, and disaster management. 
  • KSA has developed and submitted the first draft to the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) to convert the Longonot satellite station into an observatory. The project is estimated to cost USD 4-5 million
  • Kenya is also collaborating with five other African nations under the umbrella of the African Development Satellite Initiative. The training was designed to facilitate the launch of a pan-African satellite project
  • Space Program/Space Club – an educative program involving interactive scientific activities, competitions and learning sessions with students from various schools across the country
  • KSA is also involved with a real-world global design challenge aimed at designing and building drones

Lastly, Ms Olivia reiterated Kenya’s renewed investment in its space programmes. Some of the intended projects are listed below.

Plan

Estimated timeline (years)
Design and build a spaceport in Kenya 5-10 
Host a national open data cube
Develop ground stations in Kenya 5
Build a space weather observatory network. 2
Build satellite AIT laboratory 5

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