The session was moderated by Asanda Sangoni, Space and Stakeholder Liason Specialist, South African National Space Agency (SANSA). The speakers include Prof. Adigun Ade Abiodun, a retired space expert, Adiatou Fatty, Senior Communications Expert from the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr Francis Chizea, who does the planning, policy and research at the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), and Dr Valanathan Munsami, the Chief Executive Officer of the South African National Space Agency.
The session started with a keynote address from the African Union Commission given by Adiatou Fatty, Senior Communications Expert, African Union Commission (AUC) who represented the Head of Human Resource of the African Union Commission, Dr Mahatma Ouedraogo. He spoke about the increasing growth in the satellite market in Africa and how many new countries are joining the race. According to a report by Space in Africa, 38 satellites have been launched so far by nine African nations and in the next five years, more than 60 new satellites will be launched. By 2024, at least 16 African countries would have launched one or more satellite into space.
Discussions on several issues around a continental program were discussed, with comments from all the panellists.
When asked about their reactions towards the establishment of an African Space Agency, Dr Valanathan Munsami said the motivation factor for setting up the committee that developed the African Space Policy and Strategy was based on the need of the continent. Majority of the challenges the African Union oversee is somehow related to space science and the goal is to run a programme that could address this. Dr Francis Chizea said an African space programme has been long overdue and the question is not whether we need an agency, it has always been how to bring people together to work on this.
Prof. Adigun Ade Abiodun called for a need for more regional collaboration through the various regional centres and the United Nations regional space centres. I foresee a future where the young African today will be able to do amazing work in the space industry in the near future but our current challenge is the ability to retain these talents on the continent. We need to be more practical about our plans for a continental space program and develop a program for Africa, by Africa, funded by Africa; he said.
When asked about how the agency will be funded, Adiatou Fatty said Africa will be responsible for funding the continental program through funding from member states of the African Union Commission. Member countries will provide funding and they have committed budget for this. We are hoping the structure for the program will be approved in January when the head of states meet; he said. Dr Munsami in response said “we are not replicating what is already on the ground, we are bootstrapping and leveraging on what currently exists”.
Dr Driss El-Hadani, the Director of the Morocco Royal Centre for Remote Sensing emphasized on the need for better coordination among the African countries and the need for Universities and the private sector to be more involved in conversations around the continental space program. There need to be more connections and collaborations among various countries in Africa through bilateral agreement and all which can lead to regional coordination and then a continental-wide program.
When asked about the role of Regional coordination and collaboration, Dr Munsami said African Space Working group represented countries from every region of the continent while working with the various National Space program. Our focus is on downstream applications and capacity development in the region and not the development or replication of satellite and other technologies.
The 70th International Astronautical Congress brought together over 6000 delegates from various countries across the world, with a good representation of the African region. The 71st Congress will be held in 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirate.