Kenya has become the latest African country to join the continent’s burgeoning space race, after launching its first home-designed satellite from the International Space Station.
The country joins Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and Algeria on a growing list of African countries which have renewed interest in their space programmes over the past decade.
Leading the way are Nigeria and South Africa. The latter will host the world’s biggest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will cost $790m and enable astronomers to look further into space.
Nigeria, meanwhile, plans to be the first African nation to send an astronaut to space, aiming for a space visit by 2030.
CNN says Nigeria is, in fact, aiming to create a “world-class space industry” and has launched five satellites since 2003 which have helped improve agricultural practices, collect climate data and track-down hostages taken by Boko Haram.
Space programmes in Africa have a long history dating back to the 1960s when a series of dictators ploughed vast resources into reaching the stars.
Often criticised as a waste of money, there is a belief that space programmes can form an important part of economic development by driving technological development.
Launching a satellite “has the potential to improve agriculture, guard against deforestation, improve disaster planning, and provide internet to rural communities”, says Quartz.
Yet even with the likes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana and Egypt all developing their own satellites, the continent still lags far behind the global space race, in which China and India have made huge strides in recent years.
One way African countries could hope to make up ground on their international rivals would be through collaboration, says CNN.
Carla Sharpe, Business Manager at SKA in South Africa, says an African Space Agency, first mooted by the African Union in 2010, is the way forward.
“The African Space Agency will be beneficial in the long term but is a little premature,” she said. “I think countries need to develop and grow their own capabilities first.”
In the longer term, she said, “collaboration will be the only the answer for us to develop forward”.