Africa’s space race is a serious pursuit

Analysis in brief | Africa’s most advanced economies have invested in space programmes, from satellite launches to full-fledged agencies dedicated to putting Africans into orbit.

The building of an Ethiopian observatory assists in the country’s aim to put a state-of-the-art satellite into orbit as part of its plans to improve communications. Image courtesy: Getty Images. Available at: http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/600836/Ethiopia-launch-space-programme

Key points:

  • Nigeria and South Africa have been operating space agencies, and Egypt and Ethiopia have announced their own space programmes
  • Algeria and Morocco have also launched satellites for military and civilian purposes with assistance from China, the European Union and Russia
  • Some satellite applications can now be done by drones, requiring cash-strapped African nations to invest cautiously in ever-evolving space technology

Space exploration is seen as a way for Africa to advance its communications agenda, via locally built satellites boosted by homemade rockets from African launching complexes. Space technology has become more universal, evolving from its Cold War origins where the US and Russia vied for strategic advantages and prestige with their space programmes. As part of goodwill programmes, Africans have ridden into space, courtesy of the US and Russia, and African scientists and technicians have trained overseas in space applications. Some mechanical components, used by the East and the West, have been assembled in South Africa and other African states, domesticating this technology and laying the groundwork for Africa’s own space programmes. The effort has been costly and at times cost-inefficient, as the learning curve ascends like the arc of a rocket’s trajectory.

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