The past decade has seen African countries bear the brunt of climate change with floods, prolonged droughts and other natural disasters having a devastating effect owing to the continent’s inability to effectively monitor weather patterns.

With the realization that aerospace technology can help support development efforts through monitoring weather conditions, assisting security operations in conflict zones and aiding disaster planning, more African countries are venturing into space technology.

According to Maina Mwangi, a space engineer at the Kenya Space Agency, since Africa is associated with more pressing development issues, it is tempting to wrongly dismiss space exploration as a waste of money.

“African countries are increasingly getting interested in space exploration after the realization that space technology can be used in many ways and there are many areas of development which can be fast-tracked through space science,” Mwangi said.

In September 2018, during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, the conference adopted the Beijing Action Plan of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (2019-21), which indicated that China is willing to provide African countries with meteorological and remote sensing application facilities, education and training assistance to enhance African countries’ capacity for disaster prevention and mitigation of climate change.

A welcome development

Mwangi said China’s entry into Africa’s aerospace industry is a welcome development since it offers Africa the much needed technology and financing, thereby speeding up the progress in Africa’s space exploration.

“As the Kenya Space Agency and indeed the African space industry as a whole, we are keen to partner with China which has a robust and vibrant space industry and has launched a number of satellites into space,” Mwangi said.

Mwangi said that Africa’s space knowledge and experience are still in their infancy and yet to develop all the frameworks, hence the need to collaborate with partners like China who are way ahead in this field.

The launch of Ethiopia’s first observatory satellite into space on Dec 20 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Xinzhou, Shanxi province, is an indication that cooperation between China and Africa in aerospace technology has already taken off. The remote sensing satellite is to be used for agricultural, climate, mining and environmental observations, allowing Ethiopia and other East African countries to collect data and improve their ability to plan for changing weather patterns.

In November, Sudan launched its first satellite, also in cooperation with China. The Sudan Remote Sensing Satellite, which was also launched from the northern Chinese province of Shanxi was developed for Sudan by the Shenzhen Aerospace Oriental Red Sea Satellite Co, a private Chinese company.

“The fact that the Chinese government views space exploration as imperative for boosting the economy and promoting technologies that can help fast track development have made them attractive to African countries. The Chinese are also willing to share their knowledge and facilities with African countries making it easier for Africans to collaborate with them,” Mwangi said.

Other African countries that have previously worked with China to develop their aerospace technology include Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria.

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