In recent years, an increasing number of African countries have made ambitious forays into ‘outer space’. What’s more, on January 31st as part of the African Union’s Heads of State summit, the AU adopted the African Space Policy and Strategy, which outlines the continent’s ambition to actively participate in the development of space-related science, technology, applications and services. As a result, there’s no better time to learn more about space science and technology on the African continent!
1.Although Africa is seen as a newcomer in the ‘space race’, several ancient African cultures made major contributions to our understanding of astronomy. Egyptians studied the movement of the sun and created a system of constellations that predates that of ancient Greece. The Dogon people of Mali also amassed a rich store of astronomical observations and knew of the existence of Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons and more.
2. Africa has a real geographic advantage in astronomy and other space sciences. The total absence of light population in countries such as Tanzania makes it incredibly easy to watch the night sky. Furthermore, Kenya’s geographic position on the equator makes it an excellent location to launch satellites into geostationary and other orbits.
3.In the last decade, South Africa has emerged as one of the leading forces in space science in sub-Saharan Africa. It has harnessed earth observation satellite to do human settlement mapping. What’s more, the country will co-host the Square Kilometre Array, an international effort to build the world’s largest telescope.
4.Nigeria is also leading the charge. Its space agency, the National Space Research and Development Agency, flies several multi-million dollar satellites. Last month, the country also announced its plans to launch an astronaut into space by 2030.
5.Space related applications and technology can help drive sustainable development on the continent. As the AU space strategy emphasises, satellites make it possible to monitor environmental change caused by human activity and natural processes.
6.Space is an inspirational topic, and has an incredible power to spur widespread interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among students.
7.As Anu Ohja OBE, Director of the UK’s National Space Academy, said at a recent event, the success of the AU’s space strategy will depend on building a critical mass of scientists, engineers, technicians and researchers. This will also equip African countries with the highly skilled personnel needed to enhance productive sectors, and tackle development priorities.
On April 14th, in partnership with the Satellite Applications Catapult, the Planet Earth Institute hosted a special Africa Breakfast Club meeting that explored the potential around the AU’s space strategy and policy. Read the round up of the event here.