Ethiopian Space Race: Plans To Produce Satellites, Launch Rockets Locally

By Dana Sanchez Published: January 6, 2017, 10:57 am
Ethiopian space raceNASA space shuttle Atlantis, 2011. Photo: NASA/Getty

Ethiopia is developing the ability to produce satellites with the help of unidentified development partners, as well as the rockets needed to launch them into orbit, according to ISH Jane’s 360, a defense and security news site.

The satellites will be used for land management, national security, disaster management and response, and weather forecasting, the government said, according to a Space Watch Me report.

Ethiopian capacity to build its own satellites is increasing, thanks in part to partnerships with foreign governments and companies, said Wondwosen Andualem, spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Technology.

The Ethiopian government said it plans to build both the satellites and launch rockets locally with minimum reliance on foreign partners.

To that end, the government has created the Space Science Council and the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute, both headed by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

In November 2015, the Mekele Institute of Technology in Ethiopia launched a rocket called Alpha Meles 30 kilometers into space. The rocket cost an estimated U.S.$2.3 million to develop, build, and launch. There have been no reports of subsequent launches, Space Watch Me reported.

“Efforts are ongoing to launch into space a medium sized rocket within the coming three years,” Andualem said.

Ethiopia’s efforts to manufacture the satellite and its carrier rocket locally will allow the country to compete with other countries seeking to launch satellites at the equator, Andualem said, according to the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA).

A scholarly tradition tied to agriculture, stargazing in Ethiopia predates Christianity, according to a report in The Guardian. Some historians argue that the first study of celestial bodies can be traced back to Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian Space Science Society, launched in 2004 by three aspiring astronomers, has recruited 10,000 members. It opened East Africa’s only space observatory on the 10,500-foot summit of Mount Entoto, overlooking Addis Ababa.

The society got the support of government insiders and private donors including Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Sheikh al Amoudi, who helped fund its research and pay for the observatory. The government took over paying for operations in March, 2016, The Guardian reported.

The society manages more than 60 space science clubs throughout the country’s school system.

The multi-million dollar Entoto Observatory and Research Centre is one of the best places to view Orion’s Belt, which appears more prominently here than from other parts of the northern hemisphere.

In 2015, 219 students applied for 24 places on the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology’s Ph.D. program in astronomy, The Guardian reported.

The Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute was established in October 2016  to help develop the country’s space and aerospace sector.

Ethiopia’s space ambitions may not become reality because of ongoing political instability and a slowing economy, Space Watch Me reported:

However, space programs can be remarkably resilient in uncertain political and economic circumstances.

Should Addis Ababa manage to establish a practical space program that can produce capabilities that can improve Ethiopia’s national security and economic development prospects, then it will be the first country in the Horn of Africa and Northeast Africa in general, to become a space power.

Should that transpire then it can be expected that countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, and perhaps even Sudan, will look to accelerate their own space ambitions.

 

 

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