The Future of Satellite Solutions in Africa: Insights from Airbus

Bruno Parenti, head of governmental exports space systems at Airbus Defence & Space.

Airbus Defence and Space is a European aerospace corporation Airbus division specialising in providing advanced technology solutions for defence, space, and security applications. The division was formed in 2014 due to a merger between Airbus Military, Astrium, and Cassidian, bringing together expertise in military aircraft, space systems, and defence electronics.

Airbus Defence and Space operates globally and offers various products and services, including military aircraft, unmanned aerial systems, satellites, launchers, communication systems, and cybersecurity solutions. The division is a major supplier to national armed forces, other defence organisations, and commercial customers. It aims to provide cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex and interconnected world while ensuring the security and safety of individuals and nations. The company’s focus on innovative technology and sustainable solutions has made it a trusted partner for governments, businesses, and other organisations across the African continent.

On the sidelines of the 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference, Space in Africa had a chat with Bruno Parenti, the head of governmental exports space systems at Airbus Defence & Space, to gain insight into Airbus Defence & Space’s current and future African projects.

Briefly introduce Airbus, your mission, experience, etc.

Airbus Defence and Space is a global leader in manufacturing telecommunications and Earth observation satellites and providing geo-information services and defence solutions. For more than three decades, our focus has been on delivering valuable and actionable insights from data to help our customers and partners make informed decisions and respond quickly, confidently, and with certainty to their challenges. Our expertise in this field enables us to support decision-makers in enhancing security, optimising mission planning, improving operational efficiency and performance, managing resources effectively, and safeguarding the environment.

Can you provide information on the timeline and specific plans for the training programme Airbus has committed to as part of their manufacturing agreement with Angola to develop the country’s first high-performance Earth Observation satellite?

To ensure customer satisfaction, we value providing the necessary support and training to enable customers to easily operate and maintain their investments. The Airbus Space Academy for Customer Training is a valuable resource for achieving this goal. Through the academy, we are committed to equipping Angolan engineers with the technical and operational knowledge required to operate their Earth observation satellite effectively. Also, this project reflects Airbus’ dedication to building local capabilities and supporting Africa’s space industry’s growth.

In addition, we have a proven track record of delivering top-notch training services through expert instructors and partnerships with local partners, further underscoring our commitment to providing high-quality training services to our customers.

Can you explain Airbus’ approach to developing and implementing satellite solutions in Africa through collaboration with local partners and stakeholders? What are some of the significant factors that Airbus considers in such partnerships?

At Airbus, we utilise our local offices and training programmes to provide high-quality solutions while building local capacity as part of our commitment to meeting the unique needs of African governments and institutions. Furthermore, our company offers a diverse portfolio of Earth observation and Communications satellite capabilities and services, with numerous successful case studies from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. These solutions have helped our partners to address critical issues such as climate change, sustainable development, agriculture, mapping, land use monitoring, and citizen well-being.

In addition, we support our local partners in serving their respective industries and institutions, fostering innovation and collaboration while promoting economic growth. Overall, Airbus’ multi-faceted approach underscores our commitment to creating sustainable growth and development in Africa.

Airbus has partnered with African countries for over three decades in different sectors. However, what policies and strategies should African authorities adopt to promote space business in Africa and drive its socio-economic growth in their space sector?

To address Africa’s socio-economic challenges, it is necessary to incentivise private investments and promote innovative and sustainable projects. Integrating space activities into Africa’s Sustainability Development Plan and establishing the African Space Agency will help coordinate efforts and provide a framework for the industry’s development. In addition, developing new services, apps, and geo-information solutions can address various issues, such as climate change and infrastructure monitoring. 

Furthermore, collaborative innovation in areas like big data, IoT, multimedia, apps, imagery, analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, advanced communications, networks, and crowdsourcing can accelerate the development of space-related technologies in Africa. Additionally, education and expertise are critical to ensuring the industry has the necessary skills and talent to thrive. If implemented effectively, these actions will position Africa as a critical player in the space industry and contribute to its socio-economic growth.

Can you provide examples of Airbus’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in Africa, where its satellite solutions have significantly impacted? If so, where were these initiatives implemented, and how were they executed?

We have been utilising its technological capabilities to positively impact Africa and other regions globally. Using satellite imagery, we provide valuable data and insights that help address issues like water and natural resource management, preventing illegal deforestation, and responding to natural disasters. Additionally, the partnership with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) in selecting the “ClimCam” team for a mission aboard the International Space Station is a significant step in addressing the impact of climate change on Africa. Airbus has also been involved in the Sentinel Copernicus ESA programme. Through our CSR and ESG initiatives and support from the Airbus Foundation, Airbus is fulfilling its responsibility to society and future generations by promoting sustainability and resilience and leveraging its technological capabilities to make a positive impact. 

What do you see as the future of satellite solutions in Africa, and how does Airbus plan to stay at the forefront of innovation in this field? 

At Airbus, we are dedicated to utilising state-of-the-art space technologies to enhance life on Earth and beyond. Its Earth observation advancements, like Pléiades Neo, which is the most advanced optical constellation with a 30 cm resolution, OneAtlas cloud-based premium imagery and digital analytics platform, UP42 multi-source platform for partner developers, and Digital Elevation Model (DEM), offer unparalleled precision and insights, promoting better decision-making across a wide range of applications.

Airbus’ space developments, including lunar settlement, climate monitoring, and in-orbit manufacturing, demonstrate its commitment to exploring the universe and safeguarding the environment. In addition, the advancements in satellite connectivity, like massive global constellations, software-defined networks, and laser communications, drive the future of seamless broadband connectivity, which is crucial in a digitally interconnected world.

Finally, the Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellites and other UAV Pseudo Satellites provide a unique ability for persistent real-time imaging that can be critical in crises. Overall, Airbus’ technological advances continue to surpass boundaries, promoting progress and enabling a better future for all.

Since its launch in 2017, Airbus BizLab’s Africa4Future initiative has been aimed at fostering and supporting entrepreneurship in Africa. So how has Airbus utilised this initiative to bridge the gap between the aerospace industry and African players?

The Airbus Scale programme is a noteworthy initiative that builds on the Africa4Future Airbus Bizlab start-up incubator challenge to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa’s aerospace industry. With Airbus’ support and resources, African entrepreneurs and startups can create new products and services to tackle local challenges while contributing to the global aerospace industry. This will generate new business prospects and aid Africa’s economic growth and job creation.


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