“The OSIRIS Project will Develop Africa’s Satellite Data Sovereignty” – ConnectSAT Founder, Ben

ConnectSAT is a French space-for-good company providing satellite connectivity solutions to disconnected populations without hospitals or schools. They provide various applications like telemedicine and e-education in these remote areas. The company also offers solutions to track and monitor natural resources in developing countries using satellite technology. Lately, the company is seeking to reduce incidences of space technology dependency on foreign entities. To this end, ConnectSAT is in the preparatory phase of its OSIRIS project. The project seeks to develop a satellite constellation that will address several African challenges.

Space in Africa met with ConnectSAT’s founder, Ben, to discuss the OSIRIS project and their other projects on the continent.

Can you give me a brief background into ConnectSAT, including what the company does

ConnectSat was founded in 2019, and we started by providing consultancy services in mission design. We were helping different organisations with how to design a space programme. We also advocated for space programmes in Africa and subsequently developed an engineering school in Senegal. With our background and experience in the engineering field, we started our satellite programme recently. Before the satellite project, we also developed an internet connectivity project. This involved using a ConnectSAT container to receive satellite connectivity and transmit it across its surroundings. This container can subsequently connect about 1500 persons living around it to the internet. We can also develop an extensive application around the containers to affect the people. 

Can you shed more light on the OSIRIS programme? 

The OSIRIS programme is something like the Copernicus programme in Europe. It will be a constellation of satellites where each satellite addresses a specific African problem. OSIRIS will also feature an open data programme to ensure easy access to its data. This will help Africa to reduce its dependency on western technology and help. Furthermore, we can ensure that our NewSpace sector on the continent is up-to-date. We have been publicising this project and how it can bring social impact to African space actors.

What is your assessment of the real need or challenges for the OSIRIS project?

So far, our primary challenge remains data and the lack of it. This is because a nation without data has no visibility and will be severely unable to achieve anything. Because of this, we met other African space actors, especially in South Africa, Mozambique and Egypt, to discuss the OSIRIS programme. Another challenge we face is infrastructure, as we know that Africa’s infrastructural development is only upcoming. To navigate this challenge, we seek partnerships and collaborations with startups with entities in nations that face similar problems with Africa.

This led us to Skyroot, an Indian startup. Skyroot is the first private company in India with a space launch programme. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them to leverage their rocket launch capabilities. We also included a technology transfer programme such that Africa would also develop its launch infrastructure and capability. One of these innovative technologies we would like to replicate in Africa is the moveable launch platform which can be transported across continents. 

Do you have a timeline for implementing the OSIRIS project?

We intend to launch our first satellite in the last quarter of 2022. The Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique in Senegal is responsible for developing and building the satellite. We are also preparing a forum in Africa with African space actors. As an alternative, we plan to leverage the 2022 NewSpace Africa Conference to publicise the OSIRIS programme and seek collaborators. We intend to subsequently develop an organisation around the OSIRIS project with other African space actors. We are also planning to develop a telemedicine programme in collaboration with french engineers. This includes developing a scanner that we will incorporate into the aforementioned container. This will subsequently outfit the container with telemedicine capabilities.

You mentioned that you would be launching your first satellite in 2022. What plans have you taken in implementing this goal? What kind of satellite are you looking at?

The satellite is going to be an Ocean monitoring satellite. In West Africa, there are a lot of fishing communities, and a common challenge they all face is getting stranded on the Atlantic Ocean. To address this issue, the engineering students at the Ecole Superier University are collaborating with the fishers and their communities. Consequently, the satellite will be outfitted with remote monitoring capabilities to track and monitor boats. 

Would Ecole Superier Polytechnique be responsible for constructing the satellite?

Yes, engineering students from the Polytechnique will develop the satellite. Our engineers at ConnectSAT will assist and supervise the students to ensure the construction’s success. This is because it will be the Institution’s first satellite development and manufacturing project. Consequently, it will also be the first instance of satellite collaboration between the institution and ConnectSAT. 

What effects do you think OSIRIS will have on Africa in the long run?

One of the essential effects the OSIRIS project will have in Africa is to develop a space sector and satellite data sovereignty for the continent. This will help Africa reduce dependency on foreign equipment, projects, and space data. It will enable Africa to control, manage and utilise its satellite data. 

It can also help African nations develop long-term space policies, strategies and programmes. This is because the satellite data will help them understand their challenges even better, subsequently helping them develop programmes with space technology applications to address them. 

What other projects do you have planned for Africa?

Presently, we are installing our connect containers in different rural areas and zones to provide internet connectivity. We are also trying to introduce students into and involve them in the space sector, especially Senegal. However, OSIRIS is our current project that encompasses all of Africa.