Kenya ready to race to space

The race to space seems to have come closer home. Kenya has been part of it for a long time but has been jogging casually but now seems ripe to sprint.

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On 11th May 2018, Kenya launched her first Nano-satellite, heightening the need to go to space, but would steadily loose the fight due to many ‘casual joggings’. This however may drastically change, following the signing of a treaty to take advantage of Broadcasting Satellite Service (BSS) currently on offer for her sprint to space.

During the World Radio Communication and satellite workshop 2019 at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi, to deliberate on the deliverables of the World Radio Communication Conference 2019 (WRC-2019), Kenya was named among 31 African countries that have pitched their ideas with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to take advantage of the Broadcasting Satellite Service (BSS) that is on offer. The Government of Kenya is hoping to leverage on this opportunity to improve ICT services by maxi mising on the potential offered by the BSS.

“The treaty signed in Egypt after last year’s WRC19 paves the way for new, more innovative ways to connect the world, both through terrestrial and space-based communication technologies,” said Broadcasting and Telecommunications Principal Secretary Esther Koimett during the workshop in Nairobi last week.

The ITU, together with the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) are guiding the countries in making good decisions on what kinds of satellites and what slots in the orbit they should take. The decision to incorporate the 31 countries in the BSS programme was made during the World Radio Communication Conference of 2019 (WRC-2019) in Egypt.

African countries wish to optimise on the slots available by launching a variety of satellites, with a wide range of sensors. This is to avoid redundancy, which may be caused if satellites launched provide the same type of data.

“As Kenya, we were glad to have been part of the negotiations and the decision-making at the conference that resulted in positive outcomes for all users of the radio frequency spectrum and orbital slots. All of these regulatory decisions are important and represent a major step forwards validating the key role of satellite in today’s ICT world,” added Koimett.

On the country’s journey towards joining the programme, the Kenya Space Agency (KSA) was launched. It remains to be seen if the agency will be boosted to reach the levels of America’s Nasa now that it seems inevitable that Kenya will increase her activities in space-related matters.

Communications Authority of Kenya Director General Mercy Wanjau says the continent’s growth is hinged on the launch of the satellites and their active employment as Africa follows the rest of the world in sinking deeper into the digital age.

“Locally, ICTs have assumed an increasingly strategic role, with their contribution to the economy currently approximated at 13.4 per cent. Availability of radio spectrum and orbital slots, is an undisputable enabler for this growth,” she said during the workshop. Adding; “As we move to the next generation of digital technologies, we expect both satellite and terrestrial systems to play the role in the country’s digital transformation.”

KSA was established as a State corporation in March 2017 through an executive order by President Uhuru Kenyatta as the successor to the National Space Secretariat to implement the Kenya space policy and advise the Government on the development of relevant legislation to facilitate the successful implementation of Kenya space programme. Kenya became the third African member of the United Nation’s Office for Outer Space, after Algeria and South Africa.

“The agency shall be the successor to the National Space Secretariat existing immediately before the commencement of this order, and upon such commencement and subject to this order, all rights, duties, assets and liabilities held by government on account of that secretariat shall be automatically and fully transferred to the Agency,” read part of the gazette notice.

The CubeSat, christened 1st Kenya University Nano Satellite Precursor Flight (1KUNS-PF), was a project between the University of Nairobi and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa).

The university won the rights to be part of the development and launch of the maiden satellite as a beneficiary of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and Jaxa KiboCUBE Programme.

“The successful deployment of 1KUNS-PF heralds the next phase for Kenyan scientists and engineers to develop bigger high resolution satellites with serious scientific and technological value,” said Peter Mbithi, who was the university’s vice chancellor at the time, during the launch.

KSA is another step in that direction. The agency is expected to inform the public about space, science and technology related programmes undertaken and encourage the public to contribute to the achievement of the objectives.

In some developed economies, space agencies have been actively involved in several scientific milestones over time.  Satellites are used to monitor and protect the country’s environment while ensuring the citizens’ security.

It is too early to tell if KSA will become a common name now that an exciting new venture is coming up, or if it will remain in the shadows, with many people unaware of its very existence.

In any case, there is need for more than just the satellite launch to realise Kenyan’s potential in space. The results of the satellite signals should reflect positively on the country’s status.

 

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