Space Governance Innovation Contest 2020 Winning Team Share their Experience

Timiebi Aganaba, ASU lead on the 2020 Space Governance Innovation Contest, facilitating a class in ASU Interplanetary Initiative’s newly renovated Ideation Studio.

The Space Governance Innovation Contest, launched in December of 2019, is an African space law and policy capacity building competition that took place remotely for the first time and organised by the Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative Space Advisory Project, Space in Africa, the Lagos Court of Arbitration, and the Outer Space Institute.  Interdisciplinary teams from around Africa were invited to compete and address policy gaps in international space law. 


The inaugural winners of the competition were Team Luminous comprised of Philip Oladimeji, John-Kennedy Igbozurike, Fawaz Haroun, and Shalom Ajibade. Their winning essay and policy instrument was titled “Space Debris Creation as Policy Gap”. The team won the opportunity to submit their article in the soon-to-be-published NewSpace Journal, a training course with the Lagos Court of Arbitration, a one-year free membership with the American Society for International Law, as well as merchandise from Planet Labs. 

Space in Africa had an interview with the team, alongside the organiser of the competition, Dr Aganaba-Jeanty, to discuss space governance in Africa. 

  • What was your policy gap, and why do you feel it is in important for Africa?

Shalom: We tackled the issue of space debris, which we felt was pertinent for developing and developed countries. Africa as a continent does not have access to space but needs space resources, mainly because of climate change, yet the continent is the least able to find solutions for these. Satellites help us find out about our environment, but we cannot do this if the space environment is crowded with debris. We need this space available to us to cater to our needs. This is an issue about accessing space, so a policy solution followed by action will assist in giving developing countries access to space.

Fawaz: We recognise that not every country is space-faring, but this does not mean these countries will not get involved in future. Usually, when space debris falls, it does not always land back in the launching territory. For this reason, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the environmental, human, and property damage that can occur.  Common heritage is an environmental law principle, and accordingly, outer space territory should be treated as a human environment worthy of protection. 

At this juncture, Timiebi interjected on the role that culture and even language can have on society’s understanding of space phenomenon. This lack of information needs to be addressed to bring awareness to the drastic effects of space debris not only in outer space but also on Earth below, especially concerning potentially harmful space junk falling in different territories. 

John Kennedy: We tried to recognise the intersectionality between space law and environmental law, we looked at the RIO declaration, which states that an environmental impact assessment should be done. Each person embarking into space should find out the effects that space activity will have on the environment, and this will serve as a precautionary step, as opposed to a limitation step. 

  • What are some of the policy provisions or interventions required to promote collaboration in Africa

Shalom: African states should not see space-faring as an individual act. The European Space Agency (ESA) is a good model, and we could do the same by consolidating what we introduced in the African Space Policy, Strategy and Agency. Each state can begin to pick out specialities, for example; Canada gave the cleaning robot to the ISS. A country will have the technical capacity, so we spread the load across the continent and improve our collective access.

Timiebi mentioned that in the African context, joint initiatives such as the African Resource Management (ARM) constellation would instead benefit through sharing capabilities towards the development of a shared satellite, rather than each country contributing its satellite. The goal then is to foster collaboration and cooperation as opposed to competition.  

  • What was your most insightful takeaway from the competition?

Fawaz: It was the realisation of how much space affected me personally. It used to seem very abstract, but when we thought of the topic, we finally revealed how it impacted our lives. Space debris affects Africa’s access to space, and this is a challenge as we need space resources to achieve sustainable development. 

Shalom: It was the other team’s views of our topics, such as the fact that space debris is not one that directly affects African states. It highlighted the need for increasing awareness of the potential dangers of space debris for all countries.

John Kennedy: The ability to learn and relearn is sacrosanct. During the competition, I realised that carbon emissions disrupt space, and co-wrote a paper on attaining a green global economy through space arbitration. I did a lot of research, and it was fun. Arbitration was the policy solution, and this all stemmed from our research during the competition. 

Philip: It was a revealing competition, it was also surprising and it was my first time going into research about space governance. It’s not pronounced in Universities, so it was essential to realising the importance of space governance, versus how the Law is considered in institutions. Not much is being said about it. It was eye-opening. It was also basically a wakeup call about how much more we still have to do in the form of innovative reasoning if we have to create a better space policy for African countries. 

  • How do we boost Youth Participation in Africa

Philip: Education is viable yes, but thinking outside of the box. Humans do things mostly when they are motivated. African youth could care less about space law and policy because it isn’t bringing revenue. I believe investments need to be made in developing research in space law and governance and augmenting youthful activity in space. It will attract involvement from African youth and unemployment, which is a current issue, will be addressed. If different countries could contribute to satellites, the same thing can be done with African youths to be involved in the process if they are given opportunities to take part.

John: Beyond the confines of education, you can also empower the youth, and Africa has the most extensive youth participation. Internship opportunities are a starting point, to bring them in the loop. It’s also essential to eliminate space debris, and education serves as a means of raising awareness because people are uninformed about the harmful effects, and this will help them act proactively. Space law and space governance should also be included as a course into the education syllabus. 

Shalom: When you mention space law, most people exhibit a knowledge disparity between their perception of human involvement in space and how it actually is, and there should even be an awareness on what space activities involve. It is also essential for them to know that they don’t necessarily need specialist information to contribute to the space sector, but rather using existing skills to support the industry. 

  • What does space governance mean to you: 

Philip: There needs to be a definitive stance and followed by secondary aspects. I believe space governance is more of an activity involving strict adherence to rules put in place to direct human behaviour. It entails following specific dictates by states, countries and even private actors as well. It is a pillar for space-related activities.  

Shalom: The nature of space itself is a global commons, and the world has its objectives. Space governance makes sure that these resource domains are beneficial for all. This is the process which concerns making outer space accessible to all. 

Joh Kennedy: There is usually a conflict between space law and space governance. Space governance is the incorporation of directives, procedures, standards, policies, treaties, etc., it’s a legislative ecosystem. While space law is narrower, encompassing only national and international standards. 

Timiebi adds that looking at space law and space governance. It helps you understand the system. Law is the normative rules of the game, the policy is the strategy and objectives, and power is the interaction and interrelationships between stakeholders and decision-makers to inform the procedure and the law. There’s a tripartite way of considering the legal space system. 

  • What advice would you give to future participants

Shalom: To adopt a limitless thought process because space is an industry which creates boundaries, and to break out of these requires endless thinking.  Africa should not be limited, as we have a role to play in the global sector. Not to look down on Africa because of limited access to space, but rather to tap into the different ideas we have to contribute. 

John Kennedy: Challenges are inevitable, and COVID has already shown this. Do not be afraid to explore; you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take, so be innovative in your problem-solving. One thing lacking is innovation, and we replicate ideas, so come up with something new, space is multifaceted, and so are the solutions.

Timiebi: What I took away is that they looked for something that they didn’t relate to, which is why we tried not to prescribe a policy area and see what people would gravitate towards, this goes to show that even people who don’t cause the issue, can still relate to it. This is an opportunity to help people connect to problems.

In addition to this, the team also proposed different means of funding, citing that each state involved in space should make a voluntary contribution to space affairs, and this would raise funds to support the industry. Moving forward, the team foresaw that we would likely witness new upcoming sectors like space mining. With the understanding of the principle in Article 2 of the OST, where space resources need to be used for the benefit of all, these aspects can derive profit and add a source of funding for the regime. The team believed that funding should come from space commercialisation, and be rechanneled to further the activities in outer space. Ultimately, however, the goal is to address space industry challenges through policy. 


The top 3 Finalists of the competition included the winning team, Team Luminous, as well as Team Alpha, which was comprised of Ruvimbo Samanga (who received an internship with the Open Lunar Foundation), Maryanne Muriuki, and Feven Markos-Hunde with their policy gap addressing “The Peaceful Uses of the Lower Earth Orbital Resource”; as well as Team Thinkers as Doers, comprised of Oyedamola Asiyanbola, Morayo Ogunsina (who also won best female participant in the competition), and Abraham Akinwale, with their policy submission entitled “Towards African Space Autonomy: Development Framework and Incorporated Synergies”. The top finalists also received one-year free membership with ASIL as well as merchandise from Planet Labs.

Timiebi gave a final comment noting that the purpose of the competition was to get the right people (the youth) and the suitable systems to contribute to the development of the African space industry, making the contest accessible and also providing mechanisms to minimise bureaucracy. 


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