Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1430, (14 - 20 February 2019)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1430, (14 - 20 February 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Joining the space race

The African Space Agency will be headquartered in Egypt, reports Reem Leila


Egypt has won the bid to host the headquarters of the African Space Agency’s (ASA). The decision was endorsed on 11 February at the African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Egypt was competing with Nigeria, Ethiopia, Namibia, which later withdrew from the competition, and Ghana. The latter’s bid was disqualified for being late.

ASA was established in 2017 as an “organ of the African Union, dedicated to promoting, advising and coordinating the development and utilisation of space science and technology in Africa, and of associated regulations for the benefit of Africa and the world by forging intra-African and international cooperation,” according to the organisation’s draft statute.

In 2017 the AU adopted the African Space Strategy as one of its top programmes and urged member states to develop an African space programme. Despite representing 20 per cent of the Earth’s land surface area, more than the US, India, China and Europe put together, Africa spent under $100 million on space related projects in 2013. According to the strategy, overcoming Africa’s economic, political, environmental and social challenges is contingent upon a collective effort to formalise and sustain an indigenous space sector responsive to Africa’s challenges.

One of the areas where space technology can help development is through observation. As the strategy points out, satellites help planners manage scarce resources and can head off potential disasters such as swarms of locusts. In agricultural regions on the fringes of the Sahara Desert scientists have used satellite images to predict where locusts are breeding and prevent them from swarming, saving large areas of agricultural land from devastation. Remote sensing data also helps identify the best places to drill for water or oil.

Hussein Al-Shafei, head of the Egyptian-Russian Foundation for Culture and Science and advisor to the Russian Space Agency, says five African countries are currently running advanced space programmes. South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and Algeria have their own space agencies with mandates that include utilising data acquired from local and international satellites to prevent natural disasters such as drought, performing scientific experiments, coordinating research in key areas such as satellite communications and remote sensing, helping governments develop space strategies, and ground analysis for agricultural, environmental, scientific and security purposes.

African space science began 50 years ago.

“The continent is considered one of the world’s fastest growing economies so it is not surprising that demand for space-based technologies and investment is growing,” says Al-Shafei.

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