As the cradle of humankind, people living in Africa saw the moon and the stars ahead of other parts of the world. The idea of space must have been discussed in the continent as far back as 300,000 years. Yet, in the intervening period, other countries and regions have leaped ahead of the continent in terms of space capabilities; harnessing the benefits of space exploration to power their multifaceted development.
For Africa, the race to reclaim its space agency has to be won. In 2022, African countries collectively invested US$ 534.9 million in the space enterprise. The continent’s space and satellite industry was valued at US$ 19.49 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow by 16.16% to hit US$ 22.64 billion by 2026, according to the Africa Space Industry Annual Report, 2022. The report also indicates that 13 African nations manufactured 48 satellites by close of 2022.
In order to tap its space potential, the African Union is currently implementing a flagship space programme aimed at ‘creating a well-coordinated and integrated continental programme that is responsive to the social, economic, political and environmental needs of the continent.’
To support the realization of Africa’s space aspirations, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in collaboration with the US based Futures Forum staged a three-day conference that opened on Monday July 10, at the University. Dubbed Space Ungana (unity), the event brought together academia, government, private sector and non-governmental organizations that deals with space science and data.
The partnership aims to create the first Omni Africa Space Exploration Analog Simulation (OASEAS) in Africa. The private analog space research facility to be constructed from January 2024, will be crucial in promoting crewed space research simulations in sub-Saharan Africa.
Speaking at the JKUAT Conference, the Director Kenya Space Agency, Brigadier Hillary Kipkosgei noted that Kenya was keen to enhance utilization of space sciences and technologies for development. He further called on strategic international partnerships and targeted capacity building to enable Kenya and other African countries play effective role in the continent’s space agenda.
African Union’s (AU) Space Application Training Officer Meshack Kinyua Ndiritu informed the conference that the continental organ was implementing a space strategy anchored on four pillars namely: earth observation, satellite communication, navigation and positioning and astronomy and space sciences.
To strengthen Africa’s human capital on space matters, Meshack reported that the AU was in the process of establishing an Institute of Space Sciences within the larger Pan African University (PAU) – a graduated training and research institution domiciled in the five nodes of the continent. JKUAT already hosts the PAU Institute for Basic Sciences Technology and Innovation, which became operational in 2012.
Dr. Claire A. Nelson Founder & Chief Visionary Officer for OASEAS said the conference was primed to promote constructive conversations on space to give agency to the African continent in to successfully and sustainably tap the space potential.
“It is about giving regular Africans an opportunity to understand the future of space. It begins with conversations on future foundational capacity, we also look at the space and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; as well as space settlements and space sustainability,” Dr. Claire said.
While welcoming the conference participants to JKUAT, Vice Chancellor Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi lauded the initiative which she termed as a key ingredient of transformational change.
“OASEAS vision will allow us to breakthrough some of the silos of space discipline and sector. To innovate through new partnerships within our colleagues from other academic institutions, industry and non-profit sector complements JKUAT’s strategy to be a global institution for the modern world,” Prof Ngumi said in a speech.
The Conference opening session was moderated by Prof. Jackson Kwanza, Deputy Vice Chancellor in Charge of Research, Production and Extension at JKUAT.