Through its mandate, the Kenya Space Program aims to transform Kenya’s development goals through the political, social, and economic pillars.
In the political pillar, space applications in telecommunications will support automation of legal and judicial services, and surveillance by providing space data and information supporting law and order and security. It also aims to improve transparency and public service delivery to support access to information and data through open data initiatives hence promote accountability in the public service. It also aims to help in devolution. Previously, geospatial data has been used to demarcate county boundaries.
Through the social pillar, the space program will aim to improve health by identifying, tracking, and surveillance of spread and patterns of health-risks and diseases. Space initiatives will also support mapping of population and human settlements while allowing the selection of suitable areas for affordable housing. Space Science & Technology will also support digital education and Konza Technopolis as a regional technology hub.
The Economic pillar is set to benefit the most from Space Science. Sectors expected to utilize satellite data include manufacturing, agriculture, and the blue economy, which is focused on monitoring marine life, ocean and lake traffic using space technologies.
The Space Program Implementation efforts:
In the past, Kenya has been sluggish in regards to Space Efforts. Having established the first space centre, San Marco, in 1964, the country only established the National Space Agency in 2017. The Agency’s predecessor was the National Space Secretariat, established in 2009. According to the Acting Director-General, the creation of the Agency, and the inauguration of the Board of directors in 2018, ushered the rollout of national space initiatives.
The Kenya Space Program has divided its 5-year strategic plan into four thematic themes, guide by nine key foundations that would form the basis for its implementation & coordination framework.
Among the agency’s key themes include Sector coordination & Leadership which aims to enhance synergies among stakeholders, and Corporate Positioning & Sustainability that will see the agency focus on areas such as corporate positioning, resource mobilization, and institutional sustainability.
The month of October was the busiest for the Kenya Space Agency since its official launch in 2016. During the month, the Agency invited public universities across the country to a space-based research program, which resulted in the awarding of the University of Eldoret, a USD 46,000 funding, to host a KSA operational space weather chair, in a bid to catalyze and promote research in space science and related applications. During the month, the agency also provided grant funding to several universities which through an open call, had presented proposals to develop nano-satellites that address various sustainable development goals ranging from agriculture to climate change, conservation, vessel tracking, and disaster migration among others.
The Space Program’s most significant event was marked by the launch of the Strategic Plan 2020-2025, which aims to transform the country’s involvement in space activities, by developing capabilities that will catalyze the growth of industries critical to the country’s economy. One of the critical areas that the agency has been keen on is the development of an operational space weather project. Through its recent funding to national universities, the agency will develop a space monitoring network that will provide real-time monitoring of space weather events, which will, in turn, mitigate against adverse conditions in the space environment. Typically, these events affect aviation safety, global navigation satellite systems, the electric power transmission grid, pipelines, radio communications, and surveying. By its recent activities, the Agency has started on a high note with an elaborate effort to build institutional linkages between stakeholders in the public and private sectors. Notably, there are significant efforts to link academic institutions and the industry, hence utilize the scholarly output in the STEM fields; talent, and local knowledge.
Among other linkages creation projects include the rollout of the Global Learning & Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) project. The program is an outreach program to promote and sustain interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, which are foundational subjects for careers in Space Science and Technology. The projects fulfil the communication Implementation strategy and the institutional linkages & coordination plan that aim to diversify its communication channels to reach stakeholders and to engage players in the value chain of the space ecosystem to develop interlinkages with local and international space industry stakeholders.
In addition to outreach, the Agency is going forward with its goals to deliver space services. To promote its services in Earth Observation, the KSA is developing a Satellite Imagery Analysis Portal, which is an Open Source Geospatial Data Management & Analysis Software that will help address the needs of satellite data users. The KSA website also features the Africa Regional Data Cube (ARDC), a platform that contains 17 years of satellite imagery and is currently available for five countries in the continent. They include Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. The platform is currently used to monitor forest cover, land use/land change monitoring, water quality, water extent, and identification of legal mining.
In a recent interview with the KSA, the acting Director-General revealed that the Agency’s activities have slowed down in the recent past, owing to COVID 19 effects.
One of the key strengths in the development of the space program is the growing pockets of expertise in the continent and the country, supported by a strong political will to grow and develop industries that enable agriculture, food security, infrastructure development, housing, manufacturing, and health services. From the universities’ engagement, we see a rising number of professionals committed to leveraging space for social and economic development. Another key strength is Kenya’s favourable strategic and geographical location that offer suitable locations for astronomical and space physics amenities. While the country only launched its first satellite in 2018, Kenya’s first space centre was established in 1967, which has allowed it to enjoy existing and established centres focused on the exploitation of geospatial data.
There are numerous opportunities to support the most critical sectors of the economy, given the large numbers of rural communities in the country who are already benefiting from the various forms of satellite applications. Similarly, there is a growing population of the youth that is keen on developing the nascent space sector in the country. Launched into space in 2018, Kenya’s first Nano-satellite was created by the University of Nairobi. More recently, local universities are taking part in government enabled space research programs, and International partnerships are continuously growing.
Despite the positive outlook, there is still much disparity in space expertise, not just locally, but within the African space Industry in addition to the limited number of space initiatives and limited funding allocated to space science technology as reported by the African Union. Grants and other forms of donations form a major part of the Agency’s move towards financial dependency, which leaves it prone to foreign dependency. The Agency contends that its collaboration with bilateral partners will be guided by their alignment to the Kenyan Strategic plan. Through a recently signed deal, Kenya ais expected to earn USD 250, 000, annually as a result of a 50-50 income share plan with the Italian government over Broglio Space Centre’s third-party activities. While this is a move to develop the Agency’s financial sustainability, experts argue more areas would enable the attainment of equal status. It is critical to note that the Malindi based space centre has been engaged in third-party space activities since the 60s. However, Italy and Kenya only signed the income share plan in 2019.
While the Agency deserves commendation for its robust implementation of activities, the strategic plan conspicuously lacks a Monitoring & Evaluation framework. The monitoring and evaluation measures are based on the activities’ reports.
As the Agency heads into a fully operational, and independent institution, the strategic plan outlines the need to develop capabilities in human resources. One of the key developments is the ongoing recruitment of a new director-general, who is expected to bring in a breadth of Space Science & Technology knowledge and background.
The duties call for numerous collaborations with industry players –commercial and public, and immense competency to ensure agency-wide capacity development. Once appointed, the director-general will lead the country’s national space capability development, coordination of the sector while safeguarding the independence and the sustainability of the Agency.
Though from a military background, over the five months in office, the acting Director-General has accomplished several critical projects, setting the pace for the next appointee. In the interview, he reveals, “My main achievement has been the establishment of a technical wing, which is up and running. Others include the launch of the satellite weather program, the launch of the strategic plan 2020-2025, the interviewing and soon to close recruitment of the next Director-General.”
As the Agency begins its work, key areas to watch will be; its initiatives in stakeholder engagement, the balance it strikes between its independence and foreign reliance, and its effectiveness in ensuring economic development.
Njeri graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Finance, from the University of Nairobi and is a CFA Level II Candidate. Currently an analyst at Space in Africa, her experience spans across Project Finance, and the analysis of Venture Capital & Private Equity Ecosystems in sub-Sahara Africa, with a particular interest in Sustainable Sciences.