After decades of playing catch-up, the African Union (AU) has tabled its plans to join the global space race.
The AU passed legislation to establish the African Space Agency in 2017 and has just approved Egypt as host country for the headquarters of the new agency.
Egypt’s bid to host the agency topped similar proposals from Nigeria and Ethiopia (already home to a multimillion-dollar space observatory and research centre), according to Quartz Africa.
The launch of the African Space Agency comes at a time when it’s easier than ever before to launch space programs as advances in innovation have seen satellites become smaller and more affordable.
That effect has been clear over the past year: Kenya launched a satellite last May and Ethiopia has a launch scheduled for September this year.
In the past, the AU has looked to shore up its deficit of space data through collaboration with the European Commission’s Copernicus program—the world’s third largest satellite data provider.
The partnership allows African scientists access data, ranging from digital aerial photography, topography, vegetation changes to weather patterns, for free.
From October 21-24, 2017, African Union held its second ordinary session for the specialised technical committee on education, science and technology in Cairo, Egypt.
During the session, AU announced a draft statute of the African Space Agency citing the growing need for Africa to develop a well-structured Space Policy and Strategy that could guide the continent to implement a globally competitive Outer-Space Programme.
Adopting the Africa Space Policy and Strategy was with the view to formalising an AU Agenda 2063 Outer-Space Flagship Programme for developing local capacities in Earth Observation, Satellite Communication, Navigation and Positioning, Space Science and Astronomy.
It would also recognise the potential of space science, technology and innovation in Africa’s development and the realisation of the aspirations of its long term vision through jointly addressing common development challenges such as natural hazards and disasters, climate-change mitigation and adaptation, agriculture and food insecurity, conflicts, disease outbreaks, provision of education and health services in rural and remote areas and connecting citizens; and proactively managing, natural resources and the environment among others as outlined in the African Space Policy and Strategy.
It would underscore the need for appropriate institutional arrangements for the effective governance, promotion and coordination of space activities on the continent in order to realize maximum benefits.
The main objectives of the African Space Agency are to promote and coordinate the implementation the African Space Policy and Strategy and to conduct activities that exploit space technologies and applications for sustainable development and improvement of the welfare of African citizens.
In particular, the Agency shall: harness the potential benefits of space science, technology, innovation and applications in addressing Africa’s socio-economic opportunities and challenges; strengthen space missions on the continent in order to ensure optimal access to space-derived data, information, services and products; and develop a sustainable and vibrant indigenous space market and industry that promotes and responds to the needs of the African continent.
The agency will also adopt good corporate governance and best practices for the coordinated management of continental space activities; maximise the benefits of current and planned space activities, and avoid or minimize duplication of resources and efforts; engage with its users through the establishment of Communities of Practice for each of the identified user requirements; and promote an African-led space agenda through mutually beneficial partnerships.
Functions of the Agency
The primary function of the Agency is to promote and coordinate the implementation of programmes and activities approved by the African Space Council.
It will address user needs to ensure that space programmes will play a critical role in improving Africa’s economy and the quality of life of its peoples and support Member States and RECs in building their space programs and coordinate space efforts across the continent.
It will also enhance and facilitate access to space resources and services in an effort to leverage space-derived benefits to the whole continent, support Member States and RECs in building critical infrastructure and coherently develop, upgrade and operate cutting-edge African space infrastructure.
Its role is to coordinate development of a critical mass of African capacities in space science, technology and innovation through appropriate education and training programmes g. Foster regional coordination and collaboration and strengthen research, development and innovation in space science and technology.
Mainly, it will coordinate and promote Africa participation in international efforts for the peaceful use of space science and technology for the welfare of humanity and raise awareness of the benefits of space programmes for Africa.
The African Space Agency with other national and international institutions will coordinate a continent wide regulatory framework for space activities on the continent.
The African Space Agency will work directly with the national space agencies when interfacing with the Member States and in the co-management of space activities for the continent.