The African NewSpace Requirements

This article is a guest contribution from Jamel Metmati, Space Cyber Engineer at the European Space Agency

[2016, Mark Honeth in NewSpace Systems Cleanroom, South Africa]. Source: NewSpace Systems

The NewSpace is birthed by the arrival of the private sector in space exploration. We must take a closer look at how these NewSpace companies will help bring about the rapid development of African Space activities through targeted investments in the ground infrastructures, including the ground stations and receiving stations. African countries must therefore position themselves in this growing economy by creating an enabling environment for startups to emerge through favourable policies and regulations.   

Challenge-1 is an example of a research and innovation project that offers a new approach to information technology and its practical application. The results of Challenge-1 by Telnet will be used to develop a constellation of 30 satellites.

The commercial segment of the satellite industry will bring about a new dawn in the continent’s NewSpace effort. There is a need to develop and maintain our launch sites, launchers and the complete ecosystem to support the design of the New Space assets. With the advancement in space technology, the New Space is also improving how satellites are launched into Earth’s orbit.

With many African countries launching satellites into different orbits, the space market is now open to commercial players to launch their satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The arrival of small (micro, nano, pico)  satellites with high-performance capabilities indicate advancements in satellite launchers. Companies are moving away from traditional rockets to smaller launchers capable of carrying varying payloads to different altitudes.

In the African Space sector, the ability to launch micro and nano satellites from domestic launch sites would support sustainable development. Also, if the launchpad is positioned near the equator, it would offer African countries a competitive advantage during satellite launch. Not only does the launch offer a slingshot effect limiting fuel consumption, but the position of a satellite at the equator gives it a geographical position of information superior to other launch sites.

Moreover, with the increasing number of satellite component manufacturing companies in Africa, investments in launch facilities could be realised with new players in the sector.  The provision of a launch pad on the equator would increase the frequency of launches while providing a favourable ecosystem for the development of the African space sector. This would also lead to a decrease in transportation costs necessary to move satellites to foreign launch sites. 

While assembly can be carried out in local infrastructures, putting the satellite in orbit implies complex operations management at traditional launch sites. This constraint applies to each actor wishing to send a spacecraft into orbit. 

Jean Patrice Keka, a Congolese engineer, aims to launch a rocket from Africa, the Troposphere 6. The Troposphere is a Congolese rocket series that was established in 2007 at the Développement Tous Azimuts (DTA),  headquartered in Lubumbashi. The Troposphere 6, nicknamed Soso Pembe or white rooster, is a three-stage solid-propellant rocket. Jean aimed to send a satellite Njiwas into space to take a picture of Earth at an altitude of 200km,  twice the height of the Kármán line generally considered the border between outer space and the Earth’s atmosphere. Troposphere 6 was scheduled to be launched in 2016, but it has not been launched for some technical and economic reasons. 

Complemented by a space agency, the technologies developed will help support the economic development of territories and preserve ecosystems by geoengineering through observation and managing the green belt in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana, Kenya, Egypt and a host of other African nations are integrating the global approach by including a space program in their elementary school curriculum. 

The development objectives of the African Space Agency has to lead to massive economic benefits at the local levels. As roads and networks allow for a better supply and demand in a market, space technologies are one of the factors that allow for this goal. For example, The Maasai tribe of  East African countries, Kenya and Tanzania, use satellite data to anticipate rainfall and guide their herds to specific locations away from the impending rain.

However, the leasing of non-proprietary satellites takes up part of the available resources. This is changing in the context of the NewSpace since the new generation of satellites affords us the ability to have these technologies in smaller formats. 

Today, information transmissions are made based on transit communication systems from one user to another via wire, wireless, internet and other methods. In addition, as the geographical magnitudes are different from the rest of the continents, the satellite communication systems are a flexible basis for exchanges.

Therefore, in Africa, NewSpace requirements imply a flexibly adapted ecosystem whose commercial development requires long-distance communication from the new satellite potential to launch capability on small launchers.