Continental space agency planned

African nations are working to boost the use of space technology by setting up a continental space agency, to be called AfriSpace.

This was announced at the fourth conference of African telecommunications ministers, held in the Sudanese capital Khartoum from 2-6 September.

AfriSpace would enable "cooperation among African states in space research and technology and their space applications", according to a working document issued for the conference and titled "Feasibility Study for the Creation of an African Space Agency”.

The document noted that only a "tiny minority" of countries control space technologies, which play a major role in everything from education to agriculture, health and environmental monitoring.

"A common continental approach will allow the sharing of risks and costs and ensure the availability of skilled and sufficient human resources," the document said.

Among its roles, AfriSpace would implement a long-term African space policy, recommend ‘space objectives’ to member states and coordinate orbital slots and other space resources, the document indicated.

Speaking at the opening session, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was quoted by the independent daily Sudan Vision as saying: "Africa must have its space agency."

Bashir called for "strengthening space research, communication, information, picture processing and remote-sensing applications to achieve the big project of the establishment of the African Space Agency, which will liberate Africa from technological domination."

Bashir also called for space training centres and increased coordination mechanisms between African states in the fields of information and communication, the sharing of experience and establishment of joint projects in the context of regional organisations and at the level of the African Union.

John Daly, a science and technology consultant and former director of the office of research at USAID, welcomed the move. "It makes great sense for African nations to combine their resources to create a centre of excellence in space technology to serve them all.

“While individually many countries might find it difficult to provide the financial and human resources to support such a centre, together African nations should easily find those resources," Daly told University World News.

"The problem, of course, will be to mobilise the political will in the various governments to support a regional centre of excellence over the long term," he pointed out.

Daly hoped the agency would take outreach to higher education institutions, involving academics in its activities and providing materials – especially e-learning materials – to universities and students.

"A key function of the space agency will be to improve satellite communications in Africa. Educational broadcasting should be strengthened as a result.

“That might not only support teaching from the universities themselves, but potentially strengthen primary and secondary education and thus eventually the preparation of students when they get to tertiary education," Daly explained.

The simple fact of there being an African Space Agency should help students recognise that space science and technology is relevant to them in Africa.

"Because so many people in Africa are poor and poorly educated, there has been in some parts a feeling that advanced technology is not a high priority for the continent. In fact space technology can be a very cost-effective means for dealing with important problems on the continent," Daly concluded.