The Taiwanese space agency—National Space Organization (NSPO) was established in 1991 to advance indigenous space technology capability in order to address national development needs and in future participate in the international space market. Through collaborative programs with United States and European partners, Taiwan launched the FORMOSAT series of Earth observation satellites. FORMOSAT-1, FORMOSAT-2 and FORMOSAT-3 were launched in 1999, 2004 and 2006 respectively. Moreover, NSPO is planning additional FORMOSAT-5 and FORMOSAT-7 missions which are intended to be significantly developed using domestic capabilities. Other NSPO space technology activities include the YAMSAT small satellites program; Taiwan-Russia ESEMS collaborative satellite development project, and; part of the 16-nation AMS-02 experiment conducted aboard the International Space Station. Taiwanese space activities furthermore include a vibrant indigenous suborbital sounding rocket program based on the Sky Bow II surface–to-air missile. The space agency is also developing the Taiwan Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) which is capable of placing a 50 kg payload in a 500 – 700 km orbit. Taiwan applies space technology in space science and upper atmosphere research, national security, urban land utilization monitoring, environment planning, farm crop and forest monitoring, disaster management, tourism and travel etc.
Unlike the case in the previously explored cases; a clear, consolidated and broad national framework governing space technology is somewhat absent in Thailand. Nonetheless, Thailand has remarkably embraced aspects of space technology pertinent to her immediate national developmental objectives. Space technology activities are heavily biased towards Geo-informatics applications and are spearheaded by the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) established in 2000. This public entity boasts a rich heritage in remote sensing dating back to 1971. Its main objective is to enhance the utilization of remote sensing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for national development. To this end, Thailand acquired its first Earth observation satellite christened Thailand Earth Observation System (THEOS) in 2008. Prior to THEOS, the country had been involved in commercial satellite sector since 1997 offering telecommunication services through the THAICOM series of satellites. Space technology in Thailand has been applied in television broadcast, telecommunication, natural resource management, natural disaster planning and mitigation etc.
The government established the Vietnam Space Technology Institute (STI) under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology in 2006 to foster indigenous competence space science and technology. The country was motivated to utilize space technology in national defense and security, the population’s socioeconomic development, and improving quality of life. Vietnamese STI concentrates on space technology initiatives that cultivate indigenous technical expertise, and the supporting research and manufacturing infrastructure. Vietnam acquired its first commercial telecommunication satellite—VINASAT-1 from the United States and it was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2008. The country has ratified numerous bilateral and multilateral agreements with established players to collaborate in space science and technology initiatives. Presently domestic satellite development is restricted to university-led small satellite projects while the country plans to acquire its first two earth observation satellites and a second telecommunication satellite. Vietnam applies space technology in environmental and resources management, marine and coastal resources management, navigation, territorial planning etc.
Despite the presence of a national space agency being a ubiquitous phenomenon among nations with a consolidated approach to space technology, Turkey does not have a designated space agency. However, the country is squarely on the forefront among nations that have successfully cultivated a nascent indigenous space technology capability. Consequently, space technology initiatives in Turkey are led by the publicly funded Space Technologies Research Institute (TÜBİTAK UZAY), which was founded in 1985. The institute conducts research and development of space-based technology to guide, enrich and buttress the domestic space technology sector. This is undertaken in line with national research priorities in space technology, information communication technology and electronics. In addition to acquiring a series of commercial Turksat communication satellites, Turkey’s first earth observation satellite—BILSAT-1 was a technology-transfer, collaborative effort with UK partners. BILSAT-1 was launched in 2003 aboard a Russian launch vehicle as part of the disaster-monitoring constellation with Nigeria and Algeria. RASAT was Turkey’s first indigenous developed remote sensing satellite and was launched by Russia in 2011. Additional satellites have been planned and the country plans to establish a national space agency. Turkey applies space technology in disaster monitoring, mapping, environment monitoring, urban and regional planning etc.
Ecuador’s case presents a relatively uncharacteristic approach and motivation for an inchoate space-based technology initiative. The space program in Ecuador is administered and executed by the Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency (EXA) which is a civilian non-profit NGO. EXA is chiefly financed through private funding. Its primary objective is to promote and inspire the development of science in the country’s educational system—hence foster national scientific and technological development. The agency was established in 2007 owing to the notable exertions of Ronnie Nader Bello who is also the country first certified astronaut. Unlike other nascent entrants into the space field, the Ecuadorian space program has placed considerable emphasis on suborbital human spaceflights that conduct various scientific experiments. Furthermore, the first indigenous small satellite named NEE-01 Pegasus is scheduled to be launched in 2013. The Ecuadorian space agency has also pioneered unique educational and outreach program that are geared towards inspiring science and technology in the educational curriculum. For instance, the “Internet-to-Orbit gateway” and the “Satellite in the Classroom” project provides real-time data from earth observation satellites to connected classrooms. Space technology in the country is applied in space science research, national inspiration and pride etc.
Iran’s interest in space can be traced back to 1958 when it was among the 18 founding members of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Since the early 1970’s, Iran has cultivated a notable legacy in direct reception, processing and utilization of remote sensing data and imagery. The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) was established in 2003 to consolidate and spearhead all space technology initiatives in the country. Iran has pursued and successfully nurtured an indigenous technical capability in spacecraft and launch vehicle development. This has been largely due to the international political and economic sanctions that have doggedly beleaguered the country. The first Iranian satellite—Sinai-1 was acquired from and launched into orbit by Russia in 2003. In 2009, Iran achieved two remarkable feats; it domestically developed a satellite—Omid, then proceeded to place it in a designated orbit using a likewise indigenous launch vehicle—Safir. In doing so, Iran became only the ninth country to domestically possess space launch capability (see the section on “Space Missions”). A more capable launch vehicle is currently in development under the Simorgh rocket program. In addition to a successful launch by the Safir rocket of the second indigenous satellite called Rasad-1, Iran has domestically developed a motley of satellites that it intends to launch. Space technology in the country is propped by a vibrant and capable domestic space sector twinned with external partners mainly in Russia, China and North Korea. Iran applies space technology in telecommunications, television broadcasting, meteorology, geology, marine and coastal management, cartography, environmental management, geographic information systems, agriculture development, forestry etc.
This list of space technology application in industrially developing countries is by no means exhaustive. A couple more illustrative cases with comparable economies to Kenya’s were merely selected to further provoke the argument for entrenching space technology for sustainable development in Kenya. It is worthy to mention that additional sources listing different country’s space agencies and space programs do exist.
Though not discussed, Pakistan’s approach to space technology for national development can indeed offer Kenya valuable lessons. In some countries like North Korea, Israel and Iran, pursuit of space technology is deeply in vested in national security and defense interests. Notably, just a few days ago North Korea joined the exclusive club of countries with launch capability.
In the next post, I shall strive to extricate lessons that Kenya can learn from India, Brazil and the other industrializing countries that we have previously highlighted.