On the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) 2023 in Baku, Azerbaijan, the US-Africa Commercial Space Stakeholders Meeting brought delegates from the US and African governments, civil society, and industry. The primary objective of this gathering, co-organised by the African Union and the U.S. Departments of Commerce (DOC) and State (DoS), was to foster multilateral space partnerships and space commerce, marking the beginning of a space-symbiotic relationship between the two regions.
The meetings’ discussions were built upon resolutions and insights from previous themed webinars, which positively examined the potential for space to impact people’s lives across geographical and financial boundaries. Past events, including the US-Africa Science Collaboration Summit in December 2022 and various sector-specific webinars and programmes addressing clean energy and climate change, laid the foundation for these conversations.
During the meeting, Meshack Kinyua Ndiritu, representing Dr Tidiane Ouattara, the African Outer Space Programme Coordinator at the African Union Commission, highlighted the significance, purpose, and current status of the African Outer Space flagship programme. He emphasised the critical role of Earth Observation (EO) infrastructures and data in realising Africa’s 2063 Vision, underscoring the importance of collaboration in advancing space development in both regions.
Another key takeaway from the high-level meeting was the alignment of U.S. space cooperation with the unique needs of African countries. Delegates emphasised the necessity of tailoring solutions to address the specific requirements of each nation rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.
The meeting featured three sector-specific discussions, focusing on Earth observation, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), and telecommunications.
Dr Valanathan Munsami moderated the Earth observation segment. Meshack provided insights into the African space landscape, focusing on NewSpace ventures in Africa, especially those offering Earth observation solutions to tackle the continent’s challenges. Professor Sias Mostert, Chairman of SCS Aerospace Group, discussed the upstream landscape in Africa, highlighting challenges hindering growth and limiting collaborative efforts. He recommended that African countries collaborate to launch a satellite constellation, fostering technical knowledge-sharing and pan-African data-sharing initiatives.
The telecommunications discussion was moderated by Jorge Ciccorossi, a Senior Engineer at the International Telecommunications Union’s Space Systems Coordination Division. Jessie Ndaba, co-founder and managing director of Astrofica Technologies, presented emerging satellite broadband solutions, addressing the challenges of internet connectivity in Africa, including the last-mile connectivity problem and the importance of satellite internet accessibility and affordability.
Amber Charlesworth, a public policy specialist at Amazon’s Project Kuiper, discussed the global benefits and requirements for internet connectivity, emphasising the need to resolve issues related to affordable satellite internet access and regulatory policies imposed by foreign companies on Starlink, which must adapt to the regulatory policies of each country.
The GNSS segment, moderated by Etim Offiong from the Africa Space Leadership Institute, explored the status and trends of emerging GNSS applications. Temidayo Oniosun, the managing director of Space in Africa, presented the current GNSS landscape and opportunities for U.S.-Africa collaboration. The South African Space Weather Center was also discussed, highlighting its capabilities and potential for advancing the industry segment. The segment stressed the intense competition from China and Europe in the GNSS services sector, emphasising the need for the U.S. to proactively and intentionally collaborate with Africa.
Richard Dalbello provided concluding remarks, highlighting the numerous potential areas for cooperation between the U.S. and Africa and encouraging all nations to take action to make these opportunities a reality.
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