Ethiopia’s Second Satellite Set To Fly Atop A Long March Rocket In December With China’s Help

satellite in Ethiopia
Credit: The East African

After successfully launching its first ETRSS-1, plans are far advanced for Ethiopia to fly atop its second remote-sensing satellite into space, with the help of China. 

The Director-General of the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI), Dr. Solomon Belay, told The EastAfrican that, the country’s second satellite will be launched on December 20, 2020, from China’s Taiyuan Spacecraft Launch Site. According to The EastAfrican, “named ET-SMART-RSS, the second earth observation nano-satellite was designed by Ethiopian engineers in collaboration with China’s Smart Satellite Technology Corporation under an initiative co-funded by both Ethiopia and China.” 

Speaking on the functions of the satellite, Dr. Solomon is reported by The East African to have revealed that “the major mission of the second satellite is on flood and disaster prediction…agriculture and environment are also its secondary missions.” The Director-General added that “the first satellite couldn’t cover all territories of Ethiopia but the second satellite will fill these gaps,”

Ethiopia Plans To Further Develop Its Space Industry And Activities

Dr. Solomon further indicated “the demand for satellite data is still very high and to meet the high national demands, we will launch more satellites…in the next 10 years, we will launch seven satellites including a communication satellite next year. We are planning to launch 10 more satellites in the next 15 years,” The EastAfrican reported. 

Setting up a satellite assembly and manufacturing plant is also part of Ethiopia’s long-term plans. “Once Ethiopia’s satellite assembling and manufacturing center is completed, East African countries won’t have to send their satellites to Japan, China, or Europe. They can come to Ethiopia and test and assemble their satellites here.” Dr Solomon announced. 

Ethiopia is among several African countries that have built and launched satellites to advance economic development and scientific innovation in line with the African Union policy on space development adopted in 2017. Countries that have rolled out space programs include South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, Morocco, and Kenya. 

Dr. Solomon “urge all African governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to get involved in the space industry and activities.” He also stressed on more international collaboration and commitment to supporting Africa gain expertise in space science technology in order for the countries to explore their own resources, The EastAfrican reported. 

China’s Presence In Africa’s Space Market Development Agenda

In recent years, China has become a major player in Africa’s space sector, helping African countries to develop their space programs. Scholars have stated that Space infrastructures, when used well, improve the African market and help countries to be less reliant on other countries.

Sudan’s first-ever Remote Sensing Satellite (SRSS-1), was launched from the northern Chinese province of Shanxi by China in 2019. China also announced space initiatives with Egypt, South Africa, Angola, Namibia, and Kenya among others. Scholars have given diverse perspectives on this new development.

Eric Olander of the China-Africa project once explained that “in contrast to programs in the U.S., Europe or Russia where space initiatives are often research-driven, African policymakers tend to view the deployment of new satellites as infrastructure, just as it is to build roads, bridges, and ports on the ground. So, it’s not surprising then that the Chinese are playing an increasingly important to finance, build, and launch African satellites into orbit.”

In a commentary published on WarOnTheRocks, Judd Devermont and Temidayo Oniosun stated that “Africa’s space programs account for a very small part of the world’s space activity. But the continent’s profile in space is growing, and if decision-makers in Washington don’t start paying closer attention to Africa’s orbital ambitions, the United States will see itself outpaced in this critical space race by China and Russia.”

“The U.S. government ought to promote the space sector as a key focus area for the Trump Administration’s Prosper Africa initiative, showcasing SpaceX’s role in launching satellites in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. Specifically, Washington should consider providing financial incentives and credits to enable its private sector to compete with state-backed Chinese and Russian firms,” Judd Devermont and Temidayo Oniosun suggested. 

China is said to “be using its growing space program to achieve a range of geopolitical and economic goals, including attracting partners for its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), improving economic and political ties with other countries, and deepening others’ reliance on its space systems and data services.”

What impact can the development of Africa’s space industry have on the continent’s socio-economic development? Are there any security reasons why Africa should be concerned about Beijing’s increasing presence in its (Africa’s) space programs?

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