Why Kenya Needs Space-Based Technology

Before we answer this question as applicable specifically in the Kenyan context, it is essential to understand what I mean by Space-based Technology which is used interchangeably with Space Technology.

Space-based Technology refers to any technical capability that incorporates a man-made extra-terrestrial segment in its intended operation here on earth. Therefore, palpable examples of space-based technology include, satellite television, Satellite based position and navigation receivers, satellite remote sensing etc.

Unlike any other specialized capability, space technology inherently possesses unique characteristics that distinguish it to expeditiously enable a country achieve aspired national cultural and socioeconomic developmental goals. Let us now examine some of these key exceptional attributes that render space technology a propitious endeavor.

  • Certain technological capabilities are exclusively dependent on space deployment to realize their functional objectives. A good example is the Global Navigational Satellite System (GNSS). These systems precisely establish the location of a point on earth. This positional information is relayed to receivers on earth which customarily augment the position data with ancillary Geographical Information System (GIS) data to provide location knowledge and navigational competence. The most popular GNSS is the US Air Force Global Positioning System (GPS).  It would be quite a remarkable challenge to terrestrially deploy a similar system to GNSS that is comparable in technical success and universal acceptability. The prohibitive cost, technology immaturity, geopolitical acceptability, natural barriers, ownership etc are just a few of the factors that herald the death knell for such an undertaking. Space is hence the only viable operational location for a GNSS.
  • Space borne platforms are capable of operating independently in addition to covering large expanses of the earth. Consequently, space technology is deployable virtually at any location on earth and is also capable of providing a functional back-end network independent of the state of conditions on earth. The geographical remoteness of a location on earth and incapacitating natural disaster occurrences are not impediments to space technology operation unlike the case with most other comparable technological capabilities.
  • A platform remotely situated in space confers an opportunity to simultaneously observe multiple phenomena on earth instantly. Presence in space therefore not only presents an opportunity to concurrently observe, measure and monitor earth’s atmosphere, landmass and water bodies; these phenomena can also be scrutinized across large expanses instantly.

Kenya needs space technology

Therefore, Kenya urgently needs space technology… because this specialized capability is inherently endowed to accelerate the realization of national sustainable development goals; expeditiously transforming Kenya into a newly industrialized country.

This actuality is congruent with the Kenyan government objective to advance the cultural and socioeconomic status of all citizens hence raising their quality of life. In this quest, some of the inevitable developmental needs and the corresponding areas space-based technology application that Kenya has to address include*:

Development need    Areas of space technology application
1. Infrastructure development
  • Road connectivity planning and analysis
  • Land use mapping and monitoring
  • Urban mapping and GIS
  • Digital villages and community information kiosks
  • VSAT communications network
  • Universal television coverage
2. Improving food security
  • Water catchments management
  • Monitoring land use
  • Control of land degradation
  • Drought mitigation and proofing
  • Monitoring of crops and cropping systems
  • Ground water prospecting
  • Fisheries forecasting
3. Health
  • Disease surveillance and epidemiology
  • District level Health Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • Tele Medicine network
  • National drugs distribution network
4. Education and Capacity building
  • Tele-Education network
5. Environment management
  • Vegetation monitoring
  • Water conservation and management
  • A forestation plans and forest mapping
  • Coastal zone regulation monitoring
  • Mining impact assessments
  • Urban sprawl and land use monitoring
  • Monitoring desertification
  • Environmental Pollution monitoring
6. Natural resources management
  • Mineral exploration
  • Mining planning and monitoring
  • Lumbering planning and monitoring
  • Wildlife management
  • Human-Wildlife conflict monitoring
7. Disaster management and response
  • Flood damage assessment
  • Drought monitoring
  • Flood plain GIS
  • Flood zoning analysis
  • Emergency response GIS
  • Land slide zoning
8. Atmospheric and oceanic  monitoring
  • Weather monitoring and forecast
  • Climate monitoring
  • Oceanography and marine life monitoring
9. Security and Peace upholding
  • Border and national territorial monitoring
  • Displaced persons monitoring
  • Intelligence gathering

*(Adopted from;  “Waswa, P.M.B. and Juma, C. (2012) ‘Establishing a space sector for sustainable development in Kenya’, Int. J. Technology and Globalisation, Vol. 6, Nos. 1/2, pp.152–169.”). Additional information can be found at: http://www.uncosa.unvienna.org/uncosa/en/wssd/index.html and http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/publications/IAM2005E.pdf

Enviable attributes

Apart from the aforementioned enviable attributes of space-based technology, it also possesses additional commendable characteristics some of which I discuss below.

Chief among these is technology spin-off. The space industry is remarkably credited with a very high rate of technology spin-offs into other areas of application—with over 1500 documented spin-off cases. Examples include: portable computers, food safety, solar energy, enriched baby food, UV sunglasses, cordless devices, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), artificial limbs, chemical detection, fire protected clothing etc.

Space is a high-tech industry.  As a result, space-technology will spawn and entrench cutting edge scientific research, innovation and manufacturing in the burgeoning Kenyan technology sphere. This will immensely contribute towards the national objective of becoming an industrialized country.

Finally, foray into space captures the populace psyche unlike any other national endeavor. This is evident in the citizenry of the major players in the field when they achieved any major milestone. For instance, when the former USSR launched the first artificial satellite and human into space; the Americans landed on the moon; the Chinese conducted the first human spaceflight; India launched its first satellite into space and so on. Consequently, by venturing into the space arena, Kenya would formulate a nucleus around which national pride and confidence can coalesce and thrive.

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