Africa and the Race for Space

Since the first satellite Sputnik 1 was put into orbit in 1957 by the Soviet Union, in July 2017 Ghana joined other African states such as South Africa,Nigeria ,Egypt and Algeria to send a satellite into space.

There are different kinds of satellites with varying uses.  An Earth Observation Satellite was used in Nigeria to monitor elections & provided crucial information about voters who may have been overlooked by the poll workers. While South Africa has harnessed the earth observation satellite’s capability to tackle human settlement and the transform housing. Weather Satellites are used to monitor the earth’s climate. Communication Satellites are used for television, telephones, radio, the internet and military operations. There are over 2,000 communication satellites in the earth’s orbit that are used by both governments and private sector organisations.

The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) is South Africa’s government agency responsible for the promotion and development of aeronautics and aerospace space research. Although South Africa only launched its  first satellite SUNSAT  in 1999, work on the development of a launcher and a satellite had been in progress in the 1980’s but was discontinued after 1994. The second satellite SumbandilaSat was launched in 2009.

Nigeria’s National Space Research & Development Agency (NASRDA) has about five satellites orbiting the globe. The devices have a range of purposes, and even though there is ongoing controversy surrounding the high cost of their manufacture and launch, they have diverse benefits in areas such as politics, natural disasters and business. With regard to natural disasters, in 2005 NigeriaSat-1 was the first satellite to send back pictures of the east coast of the US following Hurricane Katrina. Other global disasters captured by this satellite have bushfires that swept across Australia in 2006 and the catastrophic flooding that occurred in Nigeria and its neighbouring countries in 2012.

GhanaSat-1, the first satellite to be launched by Ghana was developed by students at All Nations University in Koforidua. This satellite was sent into orbit from the International Space Centre and was a culmination of a two-year project, costing $50,000. The satellite is being used to monitor Ghana’s coastline for mapping purposes, and to build capacity in space science and technology.

Other African countries currently engaged in space exploration are Egypt whose first satellite Egyptsat1 was launched in 2007 but its control and contact was  lost in 2010.The Algerian space agency has the Alsat2A and Alsat2B which are currently orbiting earth. In 2015 Ethiopia built a privately funded astronomical observatory, taking the step towards creating a fully-fledged national space agency.

With the negative publicity that Africa has received world over, this is a positive stride and gives hope to the young minds of how they can take part in the innovations that the continent is making in Space technology and other areas.


Featured image | Africa and Europe from space | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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