Semou Diouf, Director of SatNav Africa JPO, Shares What Lies Ahead for SatNav Africa JPO

Mr Semou Diouf, Director at SatNav Africa Joint Programme Office

The Joint Programme Office (JPO) of the Satellite Navigation in Africa Support Programme III is spearheading the advancement of Satellite Navigation in Africa. As a key component of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) on regional integration and trade, its primary objective is to bolster safety in civil aviation by introducing satellite navigation technologies in Africa. They are responsible for facilitating the development of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and overseeing the implementation and adoption of Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) services throughout Africa.

Space in Africa interviewed Mr Semou Diouf, the Director at SatNav Africa Joint Programme Office. During the conversation, Mr Semou Diouf elaborated on milestones, challenges, and plans for SatNav JPO.

Can you highlight key projects or breakthroughs  JPO has been involved in 2023?

The primary objective of SatNav Africa JPO is to facilitate the adoption and utilisation of satellite navigation services across all sectors in Africa, with a particular emphasis on aviation. The programme has progressed to its third phase, advancing through stages of capacity building to establish a proficient African Team of Experts capable of effectively supporting the implementation of the Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) Programme. Notable initiatives include the Augmented Navigation for Africa (ANGA) programme, which focuses on preparing and mobilising communities to adopt the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), encompassing new constellations like Galileo. Additionally, the programme aims to evaluate the GNSS market in Africa.

SatNav Africa JPO Team

Some of our key achievements include providing support to the ANGA SBAS programme development and studies in Africa. The Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) is committed to the provision of SBAS services in the African and Indian Ocean Region through its ANGA (Augmented Navigation for Africa) programme. The ANGA demonstration services are already provided in the region, and operational services are expected by 2027/28. Moreover, African stakeholders are eager for the widespread adoption of SBAS, as evidenced by Nigeria’s interest following Satellite Navigation trials and an Outreach Event in Abuja in February 2023.

Furthermore, SBAS implementation is gaining traction in additional African regions, with Eastern Africa actively embracing the initiative. However, project specifics and implementation strategies are currently under development. Regarding capacity building, noteworthy progress includes supporting the inaugural training modules at the Master’s level focused on GNSS applications, conducted in collaboration with the United Nations African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology – in the French Language (UN CRASTE-LF) in Morocco, among other achievements.

Could you provide more details about initiatives JPO is currently involved in and implementation plans?

Our work plans were created to support all African Union (AU) member states without exclusions. In the West, Central, and Indian Ocean regions, we are actively engaged in the ANGA initiative, which possesses the capability to span the entire continent. Notably, the SBAS Project is in its early stages in Eastern Africa. Furthermore, the Director General of Civil Aviation Authorities has endorsed formulating a strategy and plan for implementing SBAS in the seven partner States of the Eastern Africa Community (EAC).

Within Southern Africa, South Africa has outlined a strategy for implementing SBAS and is actively rallying key stakeholders for support. In Northern Africa, SBAS coverage is accessible in the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) Region through the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS). Efforts are underway to establish a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) innovation hub in Africa, involving all GNSS-related stakeholders, including startups, incubators, and organisations.

SatNav Africa actively supports regional initiatives, including prominent programmes like the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). The organisation collaborates with the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) on the Free Route Area Project (FRA), a groundbreaking concept designed to enable substantial cost savings for airlines in determining flight paths. SatNav Africa is essential in promoting GNSS in Africa and supports events such as the Global Geo-Information Forum (GGIF) 2023 and the Space Star Conference 2023. The organisation also facilitates thematic activities and works closely with innovators to encourage the development of new GNSS projects for the continent.

Can you discuss milestones of ongoing projects and plans as regards those projects?

Our primary emphasis is formulating SBAS implementation strategy plans across all regions, fostering community uptake, and strengthening collaborations with the upcoming African Space Agency (AfSA). To accomplish these objectives, we intend to recruit experts to enhance operational efficiency.

Can you discuss innovations and technologies to anticipate within the SatNav industry in Africa?

Concerning SBAS, we anticipate the emergence of the innovative Dual Frequency Multiconstellation (DFMC) technology in the future, offering enhanced signal performance. Furthermore, the widespread availability of the Galileo High Accuracy Service (HAS) across the continent is poised to revolutionise the GNSS landscape, providing centimetre-level precision for a variety of applications, notably in agriculture, surveying and mapping, maritime activities, and other priority sectors.

Furthermore, upcoming secure communication services, such as Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnectivity and Security by Satellite (IRIS2), using Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are on the horizon. When extended to Africa, these services will complement the data access SBAS provides through the Internet.

How would you say government activities have influenced growth in the SatNav landscape in 2023?

The European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) dialogue has significantly shaped the satellite navigation landscape. Despite the widespread popularity of SatNav in Africa, its role in fostering socio-economic development is not widely embraced. In the aviation sector, however, the government is fully committed to promoting its impacts, mainly through initiatives like the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

The AU specialised technical community focusing on transport, energy, and infrastructures has launched the initial phase of the continental SBAS study. They are dedicated to advancing into the second phase, focusing on governance technology transfer, with a completion target set for 2024. The government is actively exerting the required efforts to promote the SatNav sector.

How will this influence the SatNav landscape in 2024 and beyond?

We anticipate a heightened focus on Satellite Navigation from our principal stakeholders in the upcoming year, particularly with the commencement of AfSA’s initial operations. Substantial synergies are expected to be cultivated in this regard.

What plans exist to collaborate with local and foreign partners to advance JPO’s African services and offerings?

The SatNav Strategy aims to promote collaboration between domestic and international partners in Satellite Navigation, considering its diverse applications in priority sectors like precision agriculture, maritime activities, mapping, and drones. We have outlined plans for industrial cooperation with foreign and local African partners, and more comprehensive details regarding our partnerships are expected to be available in 2024.

How did JPO leverage emerging technologies and innovations to enhance its GNSS/SBAS services and applications in 2023?

In line with our commitment to aid Africa, we are laying the groundwork for advancing GNSS/SBAS services and applications. We are recruiting a GNSS applications development Expert and aim to conclude this hiring by 2024.

What unique challenges did JPO face in 2023?

The state’s slow decision tendency is challenging.  Thus, anticipation is always essential in our daily tasks at SatNav Africa. In addition, the African Aviation industry is recovering from COVID-19, making tackling the most urgent issues hard.

What are JPO’s plans for expansion or growth in 2024 or the coming years?

SatNAv Africa JPO is not a big entity. The expansion of SatNav Africa hinges on the outcomes of the AU study concerning SBAS governance, which will influence requirements. In addition, the establishment of AfSA will necessitate further tasks that are currently undefined.  

Did JPO conduct capacity-building initiatives to ensure African countries have the technical expertise and human resources to develop, implement and maintain GNSS/SBAS services in 2023?

We conduct frequent capacity-building and awareness sessions on GNSS and provide advisory services as required. Although we have yet to reach our target level, we emphasise enabling users to leverage GNSS to develop applications across diverse operations. For instance, as precision agriculture and food resilience gain prominence, GNSS technology becomes indispensable for the optimal functioning of this sector.

What strategic partnerships is JPO pursuing to ensure its work aligns with broader efforts to promote sustainable development in Africa?

SatNav Africa is an outcome of the strategic partnership between Africa and the EU. By default, SatNav Africa has to align with the broader framework of the Africa Outerspace Programme and AU Space Policy and strategy. Hence, we have identified six intervention areas based on this AU Flagship Programme, and our work plans are aligned with these areas:

  1. Developing adequate skills and expertise in navigation and positioning applications and usage;
  2. Ensuring seamless integration into existing global navigation satellite services;
  3. Building on existing infrastructure, e.g.Augmented navigation for Africa (ANGA).TRIGNET (A network of continuously operating GNSS base stations) and the African Geodetic Reference Frame;
  4. Promoting an African array study using seismic reference receivers for seismic applications;
  5. Developing an indigenous continent-wide navigation augmentation system; and
  6. Developing navigation and positioning application products and value-added services to support user requirements.

In addition, we make sure that all States are represented at the Steering Committee level through their RECs and vested regional institutions such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), and the African Union Commission (AUC).