Kenya aims for the stars with launch of first operational satellite
The plan of the observational satellite is to film and report data over the next 5 years, after which it will decay over the following 20 years and then burn out in the atmosphere.
The project took 2 years to be completed, according to the government-run Kenya Space Agency, and saw the Bulgarian Aerospace Company Endurosat joining forces for the price of 50 million Kenyan shillings (a.k.a. $372,000), for the construction of the actual structure.
A down-to-Earth project. The plan was developed by nine Kenyan engineers, and, according to Reuters, will keep track of agricultural and environmental conditions, such as floods, wildfires, droughts. These data will be redirected to the authorities, for them to actuate plans on disaster management and to fight food insecurity.
“We benefit directly from space exploration, we will be able to improve our food security,” explained to AFP Pattern Odhiambo, an engineer at the KSA. “We will be able to have high quality data of earth observation, it will help us to predict the yield of crops”, he continues.
Reuters also interviewed Captain ALloyce Were, an aeronautical engineer and deputy director of Navigation and Positioning at the KSA: “We have the challenges that have been brought about by climate change, which the satellite, by virtue of being able to capture images (will be able to help monitor)”, stated, adding that “we can monitor forest changes, we can monitor urbanisation changes.”
The range of data to be collected is expected to be vast and, for the upcoming policies to be resourceful and consistent with actual scientific findings.
The African Space Jam. Kenya is not a total newcomer in the space economy: it had already sent its first nano-satellite back in 2018, confirming it being a powerhouse for scientific research and economic development.
The Nation is indeed one of the most prosperous economies of East Africa: as a lower middle income Country, though full of social and economic inequalities, a plan of these dimensions and projected in the long term has got to have high resonance globally, also due to the fact that the satellite is effectively part of a bigger release under the name of SpaceX, the Elon Musk-owned colossus – being separated about an hour and four minutes after the launch of the main rocket, Falcon 9, from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Some speculate on the political meaning of this expedition: in a Nation devastated by drought and famine, with one tenth of Kenyas holding two fifths of the total wealth, was this government expenditure realistically needed?
What we know is that this last announcement is but the tip of the iceberg of the Space Race in which the whole Continent is entangled: as Space (Nigerian firm that tracks African space programmes) reports, as of 2022 at least 13 African Countries, such as Angola, Sudan, are responsible for about 50 satellites; Egypt, the pioneer of the race, blasted off the first satellite about 25 years ago, and nowadays detains the record of highest number of orbiting projects in space alongside South Africa. AlJazeera reports that Djibouti is planning on building a 1 bln dollar spaceport sustained with Hong Kong’s fundings, coming in five years.
Nonetheless, none of these above-mentioned satellites has taken off African soil.
One small step for man, one giant leap for Kenya. The Ministry of Defence of the KSA, in a joint statement, that “the mission is an important milestone” for the economy of the Country, and in particular “Kenya’s nascent space economy”. The major contributor for this thesis is, for sure, the amount of fundings which would be destined to the National Authorities of those African Countries which would adhere to the space race. However, this also raises suspicions over a new plausible mask of economic colonialism, as well as the channeling and gatekeeping of precious resources to the highest economic clusters of people (the governmental elite) for high-end outcomes, disregarding the needs of a kneeled Nation over food insecurity.
In the meantime, the acknowledgement of human capital resources in the African Continent, particularly regarding advanced sectors such as Space Engineering, is a growing phenomenon that, nevertheless, is a powerful statement of recognition and power relationships to keep an eye on.