Space has become an attractive frontier for African countries that have launched satellites based on scientific, technological or military ambitions.
Nigeria uses satellite technology in its fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram, attempting to record movement in the region where the Jihadist group is most active. South Africa uses satellites to monitor the weather and evaluate images of forest fires.
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While local engineers and scientists are often involved in the development of the satellites, cooperation with other countries such as China, Russia and Japan has historically been necessary to successfully launch satellites into space.
Here are 10 African countries with a presence in space or plans to launch satellites in the near future.
Rwanda plans to have its second satellite in orbit in July. The RWASAT is expected to launch into lower orbit. Made by Tokyo University in partnership with a team of 15 Rwandan engineers, the Rwandan satellite will be used in agriculture development, ThisIsAfrica reports. The country successfully launched its first satellite in February 2019. Working with a U.K.-based company OneWeb, it launched Icyerekezo, the first-ever satellite that connects remote schools to the internet, according to Face2FaceAfrica.
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In late 2018, Morocco launched its second surveillance satellite, the Mohammed VI-B, from the spaceport in French Guiana in cooperation with French company Arianespace. The Mohammed VI-A satellite, the country’s first, was launched in 2017 from Kourou in French Guinea on a Vega rocket built by Airbus Defense and Space and Thales Alenia Space, Space News reported.
One of the most active African countries in space technology, Algeria has six satellites in orbit. The most recent launch was in 2017 when the Algerian Space Agency launched a telecoms satellite into space in cooperation with China. The Alcomsat-1, which began operating in 2018, supports TV broadcasting and provides broadband communications for education, e-government, and other services, according to ITWebAfrica. In September 2016, three Algerian satellites – Alsat-1B, Alsat-2B and Alsat-1N – were launched by an Indian polar satellite launch vehicle in cooperation with Indian Space Research Organisation, according to SpaceWatch.
Ethiopia does not have a satellite in space but will soon have two orbiting earth. China recently promised to pay $6 billion of the $8 billion expense to build and launch a second Ethiopian communication satellite in space. The first is an earth observatory satellite called ETRSS-1. It is expected to launch from China in October 2019, BusinessEthiopia reports. Engineers from both countries plan to jointly design, develop and manufacture the second satellite in Ethiopia, according to ITNewsAfrica.
In May 2018, Kenya launched its first satellite into orbit. The locally produced 4-inch CubeSat, known as the First Kenya University Nano-Satellite – Precursor Flight (1KUNS-PF), was developed by students and researchers of the University of Nairobi in partnership with the Japanese Space Agency. It was launched from the International Space Station after being delivered to the station by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, according to BBC.
Four private NileSat satellites were launched into orbit as communication satellites between 1998 and 2010. In addition, Egypt has launched three government-owned satellites into space. Only one is operational. In February 2019 the EgyptSat-A high-resolution earth observation satellite was launched into space. It was developed by Russian corporation RSC Energia on behalf of Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences, according to Spaceflight. That satellite was a replacement for the EgyptSat 2, an imaging satellite built by RSC Energia that launched in April 2014. It was lost later that month due to a flight control system failure and was replaced by the Russian company in 2019. The EgyptSat 1, Egypt’s first earth remote sensing satellite, was built jointly by Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences and the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau in Ukraine. It was launched in 2007 but communication and control of the satellite was lost in 2010.
Ghana’s first satellite was launched into orbit in 2017 from the International Space Station. GhanaSat-1 was developed by students at All Nations University in Koforidua, Ghana. The satellite launch was a two-year project, costing $500,000, according to BBC. The successful project was supported by the Japanese Space Agency which also helped launch Kenya’s first satellite in 2018.
Angola’s first satellite was launched in December 2017 but declared defunct by Russia four months later. The AngoSat-1, a communications satellite built for almost $300 million, was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The project had several technical issues after launch. Russian company RSC Energia, which built the satellite on behalf of Angola, committed to building a more powerful replacement at no cost, thanks to AngoSat-1’s insurance policy, according to AlJazeera.
In December 2018, South Africa launched the continent’s most advanced nanosatellite into space to monitor and manage disasters such as fires and assist the ocean economy. The ZACube-2 nanosatellite provides state-of-the-art remote sensing and communication services to South Africa and the southern African region, according to Techcentral. That is the second government-owned nanosatellite South Africa has launched into space. The first was the TshepisoSat, which was launched in 2013, according to theSAASTA.
Along with South Africa, Nigeria’s space program is more advanced than its African peers. Nigeria has launched four satellites into space, with three still operational and one deorbited after completing its objectives. Nigeria launched its first earth observation satellite, NigeriaSat-1, in September 2003. Launched by Kosmos-3M rocket from Russian Plesetsk spaceport, it cost the country $30 million, AllAfrica reports. That was followed by the launch of Africa’s first communications satellite, NigComSat-1, built and launched in China in 2007. Earth observation satellites NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X were then sent into orbit by the Ukrainian Dnepr rocket from Yasny military base in Russia on August, 17, 2011. These have been used to monitor activities of terrorist group Boko Haram, according to DW.