Closing Day of the 2024 NewSpace Africa Conference; Excerpts

The 2024 NewSpace Africa Conference commenced on April 2, 2024, and featured several high-level discussions highlighting the experiences and uptake of space innovation, technologies, and applications among different stakeholders [government agencies, commercial companies and academia] across the African space industry value chain.

Over the next four days, more than 400 delegates from 46 countries across four continents converged at the Talatona Convention Centre in Luanda, Angola. The conference provided a unique opportunity for stakeholders to unite, enabling leaders in government, academia, the commercial sector, and investors to establish new business connections and relationships to advance the industry’s agenda.

Read Excerpts from the 2024 NewSpace Africa Conference; Day Three

As with the first three days, the last day comprised high-level segments of keynote speeches, interactive sessions, panel discussions, B2B and B2C matchmaking, dinner, and unique networking opportunities. The conference’s final day began with a keynote presentation by Dr Rendani Nndanganeni, a South African National Space Agency researcher.

An Indigenous Capability: Mitigating the Socio-Economic Impact of Space Weather on the African Continent

Dr Rendani Nndanganeni, a Researcher at the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), initiated the session by delving into the activities of the SANSA space weather centre. She highlighted the space weather centre’s journey and elucidated why stakeholders and citizens should be concerned about space weather. By clearly defining the effects and implications of its impacts, she emphasised that space weather significantly affects technological infrastructure. This includes vulnerabilities in the power grid, critical infrastructures, transport systems, communication, and electronic systems caused by space weather effects from the Sun.

Dr Rendani Nndanganeni delivering her keynote speech

Regarding economic implications, Dr Rendani highlighted that the impacts of space weather on GNSS systems could incur costs exceeding USD 1 billion per day and potentially lead to worldwide blackouts. Hence, there is a critical need to enhance capacity. SANSA plans to operate a round-the-clock surveillance space weather centre as one of the strategies to contribute to the growth and development of knowledge within the continent. This includes research, training, nurturing students, and building a pipeline for the next generation of space scientists. The aim is to foster the growth of the knowledge economy and provide a platform for knowledge utilisation in safeguarding our technology and planet, ensuring a sustainable future for all. Additionally, SANSA aims to develop an African Instrumentation Network across the continent, laying the groundwork for knowledge, applications, and education.

Panel 1: Capacity Building for Holistic Industry Development 

This panel, moderated by Tejumola Taiwo, Assistant Professor at International Space University, will highlight the impact and importance of these initiatives in developing the industry and alleviating poverty and developmental challenges in Africa. 

Panellist at the session on capacity building for holistic industry development

Amal Layachi discussed the capacity-building initiatives the Centre Royal de Télédétection Spatiale (CRTS) led, highlighting their pivotal role in sustaining organisations through enhanced engagement with space. CRTS has implemented programmes to identify individual needs, enabling the organisation to provide customised workshops, practical sessions, and training programmes. This approach ensures the cultivation of the next generation of scientists. Additionally, CRTS has acknowledged that 50% of its population comprises women and has actively developed programmes to involve them. Academic sectors have played crucial roles in providing access to expertise.

However, countries must reevaluate their curricula concerning economic and legal aspects to integrate technologies seamlessly. Gayane Faye, Coordinator of the Senegalese Space Project—SENSAT—addressed a similar issue, stressing the necessity for capacity-building resources and technological development. Developing human resources is essential to ensure impactful returns on efforts, particularly among the youth, who constitute the country’s foundation.

Likewise, Klutse Nana Ama Browne, Associate Professor at the University of Ghana, emphasised the holistic approach to space education for a comprehensive programme development platform. In this regard, the University of Ghana is eager to incorporate research and education as the core mandate to ensure that students are industry-ready. Klutse highlighted that the university is adopting a novel approach to identify needs by co-designing the problem with users to co-produce results, thereby ensuring that students are exposed to a combination of space-related courses for holistic growth.

Professor Isaac Rutenberg, Intellectual Property Advisor at CIFOR-ICRAF, underscored the significance of intellectual property in space-based technology. Investors must grasp their rights early on to fully exploit opportunities in any given country and navigate complex legal landscapes across borders. Investors should also know the registration status of the satellites from which they’re obtaining data to comply with regulations. He emphasised the importance of partnerships between agencies and the necessity of an open platform to provide fundamental infrastructure. Governments should also establish safety nets to encourage youth to take risks.

Monique Mely, Geomatician at EURÊKA GÉO, emphasised the importance of collaboration between research institutions and academia to shape space policy. It’s essential to define frameworks and policies within national agendas. This enables stakeholders to identify partners for policy formulation and integrate their services to enhance capacities. Furthermore, it allows governments to identify areas of prevalent youth unemployment and facilitate job creation.

Gayane Faye stressed that capacity building is a crucial pillar that cannot be overlooked. Few African space agencies are implementing capacity-building initiatives capable of fostering the growth of the African space sector. Therefore, there is an emphasis on training programmes that ensure efficient service delivery and cultivate future skills. Dependency on external knowledge is unsustainable in the long run.

Panel 2: What is Next? Discussing the Key Takeaways and the Way Forward for the African Space Industry

The panel, moderated by Joseph Ibeh, highlighted challenges and trends mentioned in previous discussions, weighed the feasibility of potential solutions, and shared industry development recommendations. The panel will also discuss the medium-term view of expected innovation and services in the African space industry, projected performance, and prospective gaps in the future based on current industry projects and trends.

Panellist at the session

Dr Mahaman Bachir, Senior Scientific Officer at ESTI-AUC, representing Dr Tidanne, addressed efforts to align space activities across Africa. He emphasised the importance of a critical framework in leveraging existing initiatives and structures. African stakeholders require guiding principles to ensure they stay on course. Additionally, fostering solidarity among countries and cultivating a sense of partnership and ownership is necessary. Partnerships facilitate the exchange of critical knowledge and regional expertise.

Moreover, key areas must be reinforced to align frameworks effectively. These include fostering dialogue, promoting regional collaboration, and working together to ensure efficiency. Dr Mahaman Bachir also highlighted the dwindling number of collaborations among African countries, which has detrimental effects as it hampers the impact of technical skills crucial for Africa’s growth. Furthermore, he emphasised the necessity for financial investments to ensure a steady cash flow for social and economic advancements. Mr Bachir also discussed the importance of sustainability and proposed that the African Space Agency and the African Union Commission could align African countries by harmonising African policies. By adapting solutions to African standards tailored to Africa’s specific needs, foreigners can be engaged in the process.

Dr. Zolana Joao, General Manager, discussed the challenges encountered during the realisation of Angosat-2. He emphasised the importance of aligning African space endeavours with the needs of the African people. Specific features tailored to the continent are essential. Stakeholders should develop space frameworks that directly benefit the populace. Additionally, more funding is needed to implement policies that could propel space programmes forward. Andre Nonguierma addressed how Africa can access geospatial data to drive progress on the continent. He stressed the importance of ensuring accurate and valid data to serve people’s needs effectively. However, a fundamental question arises: where is this data? Once identified, stakeholders can fully leverage it. These data must be both valuable and implemented responsibly.

Ouafae Karim spoke about how geospatial data can be utilised for economic growth. This signifies a significant opportunity for leveraging spatial information to drive economic development. Geospatial data holds immense potential in various sectors, including urban planning, agriculture, transportation, natural resource management, and disaster response. By harnessing this data effectively, businesses and governments can make informed decisions, optimise resource allocation, improve infrastructure development, and enhance productivity. Moreover, integrating geospatial technologies can lead to innovation, job creation, and improved quality of life for communities. Therefore, Ouafae Karim’s emphasis on the potential of geospatial data implies a critical pathway towards sustainable economic growth and societal advancement.

Dr Mambimba Aboubaka discussed initiating a study on critical research regarding the skills required by the country. This study aims to facilitate the development of customised applications, enabling stakeholders to effectively select pathways for utilising space. Additionally, stakeholders must train individuals to adequately address national needs. Therefore, collaborating with various institutions at regional levels will foster the promotion of cross-disciplinary skills.

The panel discussion concluded with Dr. Zolana emphasising the importance of space agencies coordinating their objectives and purposes before undertaking space missions. Organisations should prioritise collaboration with institutions before attempting to coordinate with countries. The differences between countries can be detrimental, underscoring the necessity for alignment. Furthermore, understanding the nature of capacity-building initiatives being pursued is crucial to improving human resources effectively.

The 2024 NewSpace Africa Conference concluded with the closing remarks of Mr Mário Oliveira, the Minister of Telecommunications, Information Technologies, and Social Communication (MINTTICS).

H.E Mr Mário Oliveira delivering his closing remark

He expressed gratitude to all delegates and attendees for their valuable contributions. The Minister affirmed Angola’s unwavering commitment to advancing space programmes, ICT, and the telecommunications sector for the economy’s and its citizens’ overall development. He emphasised the importance of establishing the appropriate frameworks to support individual endeavours.