Space in Africa and Planet hosted a webinar themed, ‘Planet to Africa; A cross-exploration of space agencies towards a brighter future’ on 20th July 2022 to understand the priorities and challenges facing national space agencies, especially in sectors like agriculture, sustainable energy, climate action, EO intelligence, insurance and Earth observation insights for informed decision-making.
The webinar highlighted short presentations and an interactive panel discussion by heads of space agencies from Rwanda, Angola and Ethiopia. On the heads of space agencies panel were Col Francis Ngabo of the Rwanda Space Agency, Dr Zolana Joao of the Angola Space Management Office, and Dr Yeshurun Alemayehu of the Ethiopian Space Science and Geospatial Institute. The panel session was moderated by Njeri Maina, Market Development Director to Africa of Planet, and it detailed insights about the work they are doing around their geospatial programmes, growth opportunities and lessons to be learned by the rest of Africa.
About 100 industry stakeholders from 35 countries worldwide, including government representatives, representatives of space agencies, private sector players, and academia, attended the Planet to Africa webinar.
Anna Aikohi, Chief Operating Officer, Space in Africa, opened the webinar with a short introduction of the objectives and aims of the webinar, after which Temidayo Oniosun, Managing Director, Space in Africa, gave a detailed presentation on the state of the African space and satellite industry and its impact on addressing socio-economic challenges on the continent. At the centre of this development for impact is geospatial data. A recent study by Space in Africa revealed that one of the key segments contributing to the industry’s growth is EO and geospatial applications. Consequently, this industry segment has consistently generated the most revenue since 2019. Of all the 272 NewSpace companies in the African space industry, 211 are geospatial companies that capitalise on EO/geospatial data and technology.
Col. Francis Ngabo, CEO of Rwanda Space Agency, discussed the agency’s geospatial projects. According to Col Ngabo, one of the country’s flagship projects is developing a national geospatial hub to spearhead the growth of that industry segment in Rwanda. Operational since May 2021, some of the hub’s products and applications include smart agriculture, urbanisation, disaster management and climate change. Though still under development, these applications are proving to significantly impact Rwandans’ quality of life.
During Dr Zolana Joao’s presentation, he elaborated on the Angola Earth Observation Programme (AEOP), a relatively new focus area of the Angola space programme. The AEOP focuses on four major industries in the country, namely, Oil and Gas, to mitigate sea oil soil and facilitate early detection, Agriculture, Infrastructure, and Demography and Mapping, with a specific focus on land use and land cover classification and cartographic maps. In addition, these projects are linked to SDGs 1, 2, 9, 11 and 13 (no poverty; zero hunger; industry, innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; and climate action, respectively). Through the same geospatial programme, the agency developed the Road Construction Assessment Model project to help detect the road layers and lengths and generally compare these to the billing for the road project. Other projects like the Angola Drought Monitoring project, which is being done in collaboration with MIT, have been instrumental in monitoring, mitigating and preventing actions against extreme climate conditions. With USD 550,000 grant from NASA, the project has profoundly increased the quality of life and accelerated the country’s agricultural industry.
According to Dr Yeshurun Alemayehu, ADG, Ethiopian Space Science and Geospatial Institute (ESSGI), the geospatial arm of the agency, the Geospatial Information Institute, which was merged with the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI) in 2022, has been in operation for over 60 years. This is indicative of the robustness and quality of the institute’s projects. The key activities in the agency’s geospatial arm include establishing and managing basic geospatial measurement systems, collecting and organising geospatial data, research, data sharing and supporting the private sector to encourage the country’s NewSpace ecosystem. The geospatial arm of the ESSGI has also been responsible for various applications of GIS data in national security, agriculture, industrial projects, education and disaster management, to name a few. Apart from undertaking base-map coverage for urbanisation and extensive national aerial photography coverage, they are also installing national geodetic networks across the country to facilitate an influx of remote sensing data.
During the Q & A session, Col Ngabo indicated that a major challenge faced by African governments around satellite imagery is getting accurate, up-to-date, high-resolution data to better cater to critical geospatial applications. He also noted that inadequate human resources and technical know-how to extract and apply the data is another major struggle for the African national geospatial ecosystem, which consequently affects the quality and development of some projects.
Drs Joao and Alemayehu further opined that apart from human resources, Africa also struggles with the coverage of the available satellite data. Moreover, the available data often does not cover many essential locations, especially rural areas, so getting quality and usable data for development also clogs the wheels of development.
The panellists also discussed possible ways to enhance the growth of the sector. “An excellent way to solve some of these problems is the exploitation of public-private partnerships with commercial space actors. To boost private sector engagement, however, African governments need to invest more intentionally in its NewSpace ecosystem to facilitate any real industry growth for socio-economic development”, said Col. Francis. Another major solution is capacity building. The agency is partnering with key local and international universities in Rwanda to embark on joint space projects.
According to Dr Yeshurun, ESSGI, on the other hand, seems to be making headway in building the necessary human capital for the space ecosystem. “Many of the agency’s workforce are students who graduated from the agency’s capacity-building projects”, concluded Dr Yeshurun.
Furthermore, regarding the trends in the African NewSpace ecosystem, Dr Joao mentioned the need to invest in segments, applications and companies that directly impact the achievement of the SDGs, as Africa is currently lagging behind on its targets.
The webinar closed with a short presentation from Rene Griesbach, Regional Manager Pre-sales in EMEA for Planet. Griesbach extensively discussed Planet’s products and services tailored to Africa during his presentation. An example is Planet’s satellite constellation which provides accurate, accessible high-resolution and comprehensive coverage data that African countries can properly exploit for several thematic applications. The company’s solutions include monitoring and tracking, data enhancement and storage, and data analysis. Another equally important product was Planet’s monitoring programmes developed to track variables to detect trends and changes, make predictions, and model future processes after successful projects. All these translate into revenue generation, early detection and risk management and other such benefits for governments and societies.
Ayooluwa Adetola is a writer and editor at Space in Africa. She loves to share scientific information using the simplest words possible. When she’s not in front of a screen, she can be found with her nose buried in a book.