Focus on Technology
2:00 pm
Wed March 12, 2014

African space agency, a giant leap for some

This fall members of the African Union Commission are scheduled to release their recommendations for an African Space Agency. The feasibility study is chaired by South Africa and includes Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Egypt and Algeria.

For some, a space agency is the likely next step. Since 2010 satellite capacity across the continent has almost tripled, helping to fuel Africa's mobile revolution, according to University of Cincinnati aerospace engineering professor Grant Schaffner.

  • More than 70% of Africans have mobile phones
  • Satellite mapping is helping to find mineral reserves
  • Satellites helped uncover an underground aquifer in Kenya's driest region

Nigeria is constructing a space complex with a museum and planetarium. Voice of America reports it has already launched a number of satellites and wants to send an astronaut to space by 2015.

By 2028 Nigeria wants to begin making and marketing its own satellites. Ghana launched its Space Science and Technology Center in 2012 as a precursor to a full-blown space agency planned for 2016.

There are a few problems. Some wonder if Africa should be spending money on space rather than focusing on food. Nigeria's National Space Research and Development Agency Spokesman Felix Ale told Voice of America satellite imagery is key for national development.

Uganda's goal is to built a space rocket. This video from NTV in 2012 shows the country is not quite there.

There are questions about a African Space Agency. UC's Schaffner, a native of South Africa, did some research. He says Peter Martinez, the coordinator of South Africa’s National Working Committee on Space and Technology felt the idea was premature.

In addition, Schaffner’s friend, Marthinus van Schoor was involved in the early space efforts in South Africa. He said joining together with other countries to form a space agency could be problematic, citing no joint agency between the U.S., Russia and Europe exists. Grant Schaffner.

“In terms of how the U.S. feels about it or other countries like Europe and so on, I think they’re sort of looking at it with curiosity. You might even say bemusement given that theirs has been kind of a checkered past with African Space efforts. They’ve had some successes, but they’ve had some failures."

There is a George Clooney connection.  Clooney is funding the Satellite Sentinel Project to monitor the military activities of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, accused of war crimes. Al-Bashir has called on his nation to put up their own satellites to dispute what Clooney’s satellites are showing.