UNOOSA’s “Space Economy – Africa in Focus” Virtual Conference – Excerpts

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) organised its first virtual conference dedicated to the space economy in Africa on the 30th of June, 2021. The conference was titled “Space Economy –  Africa In Focus”. The initiative provided free-to-access opportunities to exchange expertise and insights of public and private-sector experts from across the global space sector. In addition, high-level representatives from UNOOSA, African Union, Portugal and companies in the space sector engaged in a peer-to-peer exchange of good practices to foster space economy growth. 

First Session

UNOOSA Director, Dr Simonetta Di Pippo kickstarted the first session with collaboration with African countries and the importance of supporting space startups. She noted that “space is not new in Africa”. Mahama Ouedraogo, Director of the African Union Commission, spoke next. The Director remarked that the NewSpace sector had seen significant boosts nationally and continentally. He cited the proliferation of CubeSats and the creation of new national space programmes among African nations. Mahama Ouedraogo also confirmed the formalisation of the African Space Agency. Following this, he discussed the African Space Strategy, its core principles and how the commission has implemented it. The Director concluded by extending an invitation to UNOOSA to the Africa Space Week coming later this year.

Director of the Portugal Space Agency, Hugo Costa, rounded off the session. He explained the recent activities of the agency. Furthermore, he stated that Portugal would host an international space studies conference. To this end, he assured that the Agency would work with African organisations to ensure Africans find it easy to study in Portugal.

Second Session

Part A

The second session featured presentations from twelve speakers. Abimbola Alale, CEO Of NigComSat, began the first part of the second session with a presentation on NigComSat. The presentation included NigComSat’s history and its recent activities, amongst others. The CEO also discussed the company’s satellite resources. She noted NigComSat-1r and its Ku-band, C-band, L-band and Ka-band footprints in Africa and the world. Furthermore, Abimbola noted NigComSat’s collaboration with Asecna and Thales Alenia. She also mentioned the company’s VSAT core skill training which trained 600 participants (50 from all 36 Nigerian states). She noted that they also planned to train 600 more annually over the next five years.

James Barrington-Brown of NewSpace Systems presented next. His presentation spanned across NewSpace System’s early beginnings, challenges, and subsequent growth over the years. His presentation aimed at inspiring the next set of entrepreneurs and startups, especially in the upstream sector of the African space industry. Afterwards, Bruno Henrion of Rascomstar made his presentation. He discussed the activities of Rascomstar, its RQ1R satellite, and the future of broadband in Africa. Francisco da Cunha of Geosat followed through and enumerated projects in Africa. He discussed satellite applications on the continent, including agritech, blue economy, forestry, prospecting, etc.

John Lewis rounded off the first part with a presentation on agriBORA, an African agritech company targeting smallholder farmers in Kenya. John Lewis discussed the challenges – and lessons learned – of smallholder farming in Africa. Some of the challenges include; a highly fragmented smallholder farming system, lack of access to the internet, amongst others. John also referred to the locust crisis in East Africa, the pandemic, and how it affected AgriBORA.

During the question and answer session, James Barrington-Brown expressed the need for more spin-outs from universities and research institutions. This, he reasoned, is as government institutions are more research and less innovation-based. Francisco de Cunha supported James’ opinion, remarking that space strategies should be private-based. Abimbola advised that the African Space Agency, when operationalised, should emphasise private partnerships by creating policies that seek to increase participation of the private sector, nationally and continentally. She also commented that policies also target the upstream space industry as there is less focus on the upstream sector. She also advised an intentional inclusion of non-space actors in space activities. This would bridge the gap in communication between space actors and non-space actors. 

Part B

The second part of the second session featured presentations from seven panellists. Temidayo Oniosun, the Managing Director of Space in Africa, was the first speaker in the session. He spoke about the growing trend in the African Space industry; how the increasing investment in the industry is on track to bring about substantive growth from the USD 7.37 billion valuations in 2019 to USD 10.24 billion in 2024. He also spoke exhaustively about the different operating segments of the industry, namely: Earth Observation, Satellite Communication, Manufacturing, Astronomy and Navigation. In addition, Temidayo also talked about the over 282 Newspace companies and the upstream and downstream sectors’ players.

Amr Emam, the Head of Space sector at Nilesat,  presented on NileSat and Africa – The common interests and potential growth. Amr discussed Nilesat’s entire satellite fleets; the Nilesat 101, Nilesat 102, Nilesat 201 and the future satellite planned for launch in April 2022, the Nilesat 301. According to Amr, the NileSat 301 will provide new coverage and services to the MENA region and the southern part of Africa and provide broadband services using Ka-Band frequencies over Egypt. Furthermore, Amr spoke about the growth in the satellite TV market, which has increased from 44 million in 2014 to an estimated 57 million in 2017. Amr also mentioned the growth in the pay-TV market in the last five years, with more than 5.6 million subscribers in South Africa and over 3.3 million subscribers in Nigeria.

The Managing Director of HEAD Aerospace France, Kammy Brun, presented “Meeting all demands of Earth Observation from Satellites”. She discussed some of her company’s success stories, primarily the multi-million Euro contract signed with the Ethiopian Space and Science Institute (ESSTI) in 2019 to construct a remote sensing ground receiving station and a VHR Optic/Radar Image Provision in Ethiopia. According to Kammy, the Ethiopian ground station is the first commercial ground receiving station in Sub-Saharan Africa to receive imagery collected by Chinese remote sensing satellites, including antenna systems, data processing systems and data application software.

She also spoke about the economic benefit of the ground station to the East African nation, including its importance to the agricultural sector, defence and security, infrastructural monitoring, and much more. Kammy also spoke about HEAD’s Skywalker Internet of Things (IoT) constellation projects in Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda. The project has brought about sustainable development in different sectors of these countries. 

Vivianne Metta of LocateIT in Kenya gave a presentation on “Space Economy- Africa in Focus”. She discussed some of their space-driven solutions, which have been helpful in a lot of sectors across Africa, including:

  • AfriCultuReS- Enhancing food security in African by leveraging remote sensing tools;
  • Leveraging Earth Observation tools and crop modelling to support agricultural value chain digitization in Kenya sustainably; and
  • Using web-service and geographic information system (GIS) software, QGIS plugin to deliver timely information on land degradation in North Africa.

Pauline Bourg of Airbus Defence and Space presented on “Space at Airbus”. She discussed how Airbus has partnered and helped to design and build many African satellites. In addition, through the Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) platform, Airbus has also trained numerous African engineers in the design, assembly, integration, and testing of satellites. She also talked about the Kilimo project in Kenya. According to her, the project utilises satellite-based maps, geostatistics and crop monitoring. This aids agricultural authorities in Kenya make better-informed decisions. Pauline also discussed the Africa 4 Future initiative. The initiative is an aerospace accelerator program that has accelerated more than 30 startups within four years.

Dr Olugbenga Leke Oyewole, the Chief Executive of Atlantic Factorial, spoke extensively on the various services offered by his company to different sectors, including maritime, aviation, metrology, radiofrequency analysis, imagery, telemedicine and education.

The Co-Founder and CEO of Astrofica Technologies, Jessie Ndaba, presented on “H2OPE-SAT Constellation: A Hyperspectral Space-based solution for water and agricultural monitoring and management”. She discussed Astrofica’s successful projects, which include:

  • The assembly, integration and launch of the ZA-CUBE2;
  • The comprehensive analysis of the South African Space Industry Development Policy Framework for the Department of Trade and Industry and Blueprint Holding; and
  • Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA).