Africa’s satellite market is now open; 20 projects ready to take off

By Marie Toulemonde

Posted on Monday, 26 July 2021 07:38

Despite a gap in 2020, the continent wants to take part in conquering space. Since the beginning of the year, three satellites have been launched and some 20 projects are about to get underway.

On 22 March 2021, Tunisia kicked things off by launching its very first satellite: Challenge One, an Internet of Things satellite that was designed and built entirely by TelNet, a national company. But it was not the only African satellite onboard the Soyuz-2 rocket that took off that day from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Simba, a nanosatellite jointly designed by three universities – Israeli, Italian and Kenyan – also took to space. The ‘CubeSat’ – this type of nanosatellite’s nickname – will be entirely dedicated to observing wildlife within Kenya’s natural parks, thanks to special sensors that will be placed on certain animals. It will be able to transmit data on the movements and migratory patterns of protected species.

And in Mauritius, MirSat 1 – a satellite that was also designed locally – was launched on 3 June.

A sovereignty issue

No African country has the capacity to put its satellites into orbit, the majority of which are designed abroad. But despite the lack of infrastructure, the continent does not intend to be left behind when it comes to conquering space. And for good reason.

Owning a satellite is now a strategic necessity, both for economic development and security. This valuable tool is not only used in meteorology, telecommunications, navigation and natural resource management, but also for surveillance and espionage.

Hitherto dominated by Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria, the African satellite market is now becoming increasingly open. The arrival of nanosatellites, such as the CubeSat – which are smaller, lighter and easier to design – has made it possible for democratisation of the manufacturing process.

In addition to the 44 African devices already in orbit, some 20 others are about to be launched. We have sifted through the market for you and deciphered the main lessons to be learned from this African conquest of space.

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