A team of student engineering researchers from Kenyatta and Nairobi universities, Viwanda Africa Group and Longshot Space Technology, have commissioned a report examining the viability of establishing a spaceport in Kenya. The report selected Marsabit County as the most suitable county in Kenya of seven key locations to develop a Spaceport. Other counties which the report examined are Laikipia, Kilifi, Tana River, Isiolo, Turkana and Narok county.
The Kenya Spaceport Research assessed all the 47 counties. Marsabit County subsequently emerged as the most favourable location to set up a Space Port. This was due to its large tracts of unoccupied and affordable land. The other vital factors include its sparse population density, low trafficked airspace, generally flat terrain and proximity to the LAPSSET corridor. The report drew data from various national and global organisations, as well as guidance from the Kenya Space Agency (KSA),
KSA Acting Director-General Col. Hillary B. Kipkosgey noted that establishing a spaceport capable of launching rockets within Kenya had numerous benefits. He also added that it would positively impact the growth of the country. He made this known through his speech while receiving the report.
Furthermore, the Colonel noted that developing highly innovative industries provides current and future employment opportunities in many sectors. He added that the “development of such a spaceport would also foster research, innovation and growth of knowledge within this country. This will ripple out to Kenya taking the lead globally as a significant player in the space sector.” Additionally, he noted that “the Space sector requires innovative, committed and forward-thinking minds; something our young people have in abundance,” thus concluding that satellite launch is an area Kenya can grow and lead in.
In addition, Viwanda Africa CEO Nyambura Kamau noted that the interest to survey Kenya originated from its geographic advantages. The country sits on a potential launch site: an interest shared by the US-based space start-up company Longshot. Longshot Space Technology CEO Mike Grace also noted Kenya’s ideal placement for a space launch. He added that “after researching Kenya and paying a visit to Nairobi, I discovered a further advantage the nation has which may make it unique in the world; its people,”
Kenya is in a geographically advantageous position due to its lateral coordinates. Its location on the equator provides a space vehicle launching from Kenya with a “speed boost”. This speed boost is equivalent to an additional 1,650 km/h due to the earth’s rotation. This consequently allows the launch vehicle to save energy and carry heavier payloads into space.
Kenyatta University Chairperson, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Dr Eng. Victor M. Mwongera, Principle investigator and aerospace engineer, said the report provides a robust initial examination on the viability of establishing a spaceport in Kenya. He continued that “the report examines the benefits of establishing the spaceport, the ideal location and the considerations Kenya must make. It also examines its commercial viability and how the private and public sectors should work together to realise it”. Dr Mwongera concluded that the report shows that establishing the spaceport is a viable idea and something Kenya could pursue.
The report estimates that the initial stage of the Spaceport construction will cost Kshs 5 billion (USD 44.5 million), Kshs 7 billion (USD 62.3 million) as annual operational costs and revenue of Kshs 1 billion (USD 8.9 million) per launch. The report also estimates five launches within the first year of construction and an exponential rise to 60 launches by the 10th year of operation.
The team researched the physical, economic, environmental, social, political, and cultural factors necessary for establishing a spaceport. Furthermore, they used a decision matrix to analyse the counties regarding the primary factors affecting a spaceport’s location. This consequently helped the team narrow down the 47 counties to seven for further analysis. The team subsequently conducted a PESTEL and SWOT analysis and a second decision matrix on the seven counties. These analyses consequently led the team to select Marsabit County as the ideal location for a spaceport.
Marsabit is sparsely populated, has readily available, vast arid lands, and connectivity to the LAPSSET transport corridor. The sparse population in Marsabit makes it easier to launch vehicles to space without huge disruption to regular air traffic. However, the report indicated a potential need to construct additional supporting infrastructure such as roads, boreholes, and solar farms.