Kenya Space Agency Launches Five Model Satellites

On 14th October, the Kenya Space Agency (KSA) presided over an event that saw the launch of a 1U nanosatellite. The event, at Kenya’s upcoming smart city, Konza Technopolis, saw five universities compete. The universities comprised Kenyatta University (KU), Moi University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT), the Technical University of Kenya (TUK) and the University of Nairobi (UON).

Each of the universities presented its 1U nanosatellite model for different missions. Except for TUK, the primary payload for the universities was a camera. The camera was for remote sensing applications in agriculture and disaster management.  Furthermore, the KU project focused on using satellites in providing imagery for crop monitoring to assist in smart agriculture. That was the case with Moi University as well as UON. JKUAT’s mission further encompassed a thermal imager. The imager is applicable in monitoring surface temperatures and additional tasks such as tracking of wildebeest migration.

Unlike the other four universities, TUK’s mission focused on emergency rescue missions for Kenyan fishers at Lake Victoria. TUK fitted their 1U nanosatellite with a transceiver for detecting distress signals. The satellite receives the signals from an Automated Information System (AIS) device fitted in their boat or ship. In turn, the AIS device receives Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates from the satellites and relay them to TUK’s satellite. The satellite subsequently transmits it back to earth to the coastal or shore station in case of any rescue operation arising from an emergency. These projects showed the academic institutions and KSA’s determination in providing solutions to challenges in Kenya.

Speaking at the event, the acting director-general of KSA, Col. Hillary Kosgey, affirmed the agency’s commitment to supporting space systems engineering and development research. This was evident in the choice of the launching platform for the 1U nanosatellites. KSA contracted Swift Lab, an aerospace startup that develops drones to fly the nanosatellites.

Colonel Kosgey further promised the participating students of limited internship positions and job opportunities. His promises came at the backdrop of Professor Paul Baki of TUK’s request for more funds to enable the continuity of the research chair projects. Furthermore, he advocated for more consultation with academia, and collaboration with other Kenyan research institutions. According to the Professor, such proposals will increase the agency’s capitation towards developing complete satellites.

The nanosatellite development project is expected to proceed with KSA announcing that further funding will be availed for the top three universities to launch a 3U nanosatellite. The winners are expected to be announced in the coming days after the results of the judging panel.

Speaking at the event, KSA’s Research, Education and Outreach Lead, Charles Mwangi, stated that the project’s ranking will be based on the submitted report, oral presentation, and practical demonstration of the nanosatellites. The top three winners will further demonstrate their nanosatellites to the ministry of defence and higher education. Moreover, KSA plans for a high-altitude balloon launch for each of the nanosatellites.

Since its launch, KSA has embarked on its mandate of promoting space activities in the country. The agency’s determination to see nanosatellite development affirms its commitment to tap into the local talent and skills in satellite engineering.

Kenya had previously launched a CubeSat following a collaboration with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). However, the country is more focused on building capacity in satellite engineering from local universities. As suggested by Professor Paul Baki and echoed by KSA’s acting director Col. Kosgey, an increase in the agency’s budget can leapfrog the country’s ambition to launch more satellites that addresses its unique problems.