By virtue of being a late entrant, Kenya is paradoxically opportunely placed to benefit from the experiences of other countries that have preceded her in embracing space technology for sustainable development. We have scrutinized in detail the space technology experiences of India and Brazil, and further succinctly analyzed a plethora of other developing countries’ methodologies in adopting space technology. Learning from other countries’ campaigns in space technology is perceptive but insufficient if Kenya is to effectively adopt space technology for sustainable development.
To optimally exploit space technology for sustainable development, lessons learned from Kenya’s predecessors must be augmented by a strategically nimble and innovative approach that is uniquely relevant to the Kenyan development doctrine. Therefore, first we shall extricate fundamental lessons from the previously scrutinized case studies and later characterize a customized space sector framework for Kenya. The key aspects to be considered are how the specific countries formulated space technology policies; space program organizational frameworks; impact of space technology on national development etc. Some of the lessons Kenya can learn include:
A nation should be courageous and confident in its abilities to embrace space technology and reap resulting benefits.
Not buoyed by being a newly independent young nation, the Indian leadership was bold enough to venture into the akin nascent field of space. Similarly, Brazil decided to pursue space technology when the field was still in its infancy. Other countries like Indonesia and Iran also ventured into space technology at the beginning of the modern space-age in the 1960s. Notably, Ecuador and Malaysia have established manned-spaceflight programs despite being space technology neophytes. Every nation that has embraced space technology has hence exhibited notable nationalistic courage and confidence.
Have a clear, simple and distinctive reason for venturing into space technology.
In every case study we have examined, a simple, clear and concise objective answered the question “why” a country was venturing into space technology. It is evident that nearly all countries ventured into space primarily to expedite their national development agenda and lift their citizens out of poverty. A nation’s leadership that adopts space for national development makes a necessary visionary decision to expedite national development.
A country’s space technology program should directly serve the socioeconomic needs of the common masses.
Majority of the space technology programs that we analyzed were initiated with a vision to directly extend the benefits of the space technology to society at the grass-roots level. This is essential to facilitate successful national development. This approach is evident in countries like India, Brazil, Nigeria, Malaysia, Iran, Turkey etc. A well-stipulated vision spawning explicit objectives of a country’s space technology program is paramount for success. The vision should detail the key performance indicators that will measure the country’s space technology progress in serving the citizens.
Good organization of the space technology sector is vital.
A nation’s space technology innovation system must be creatively structured to maximize inherent strengths and also efficiently attract opportunities that will fill-in technology deficiency gaps. Countries such as Pakistan, India, Brazil, Iran and Indonesia have comprehensive space sector organizational frameworks. These structures have been tweaked over time purposely to manage their space programs efficiently. This ensures a sustained connection between national developmental needs at the grass-roots level and technological applications in space.
A domestic knowledge and skills base must be established.
A nation venturing into any hi-tech field especially space must start by steadily building a robust and competent local space technology knowledge and skills base. Front-runners examined like India, Brazil, Iran, Turkey and South Africa initially invested heavily to nurture a domestic space technology expertise before initiating further technological investments. Such an approach not only guarantees a nation’s self-reliance in space technology ability, but also sustains a grassroots’ connection through job creation. The space technology program should initiate and maintain a local space technology industrial base by innovating technology, incubating new firms that employ the technology, and provide a market for the space technology and services offered by these nurtured firms. In this manner, money spent by the government on space remains in the country. To illustrate, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and the operational Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle vehicles have more than 70% of components coming from Indian industry, and ongoing efforts aim to increase this figure to 100%.
Concurrent pursuit of multiple space-based technologies is necessary.
The space technology programs of all the countries examined pursued multiple aspects of space technology simultaneously to acquire an all-round comprehensive space technology capability. For example India, Brazil, Iran, South Africa etc concurrently pursued artificial satellite and launch vehicle capabilities. A successful domestic space technology program hence requires concurrent initiation of programs in launch vehicles and space propulsion systems; satellite systems engineering, manufacture, test and integration technology; space sciences; payload development; ground control station systems and space communication technologies.
A steady space technology capability growth path must be articulated
A new entrant must plan to progress from being a technology recipient to a technology developer and eventually a technology exporter. A continuous, steady technological capacity growth in a nation’s space program is essential to guarantee eventual self-reliance in space technology. This is the scenario evident in the space technology initiatives of nearly all countries earlier analyzed.
International cooperation and technology transfer is a mandatory
A space technology neophyte needs to cooperate with other established players to acquire the necessary technological capacity through appropriate technology transfer mechanisms. Re-inventing the wheel is folly and naive. Moreover, multilateral cooperation is a continuous trend even among established players like US, RUSSIA, Europe, Japan etc. As evident in the analysis, all the examined countries inaugurated their space technology programs through technology transfer initiatives from already established nations. Consequently, a country must be creative in establishing and adopting cooperation mechanisms that will facilitate expeditious expertise transfer.
Space is a dangerous, risky and an unforgiving place. Similarly, space technology is complicated, risky and relatively expensive. As a country develops its capabilities in space, there will be failures that may even involve fatalities. Reasonably, a new entrant should appreciate this disconcerting fact, but still, soldier on, taking every precaution to mitigate the associated risk.
This list of lessons learned is not exhaustive but merely scratches the surface of this multifaceted theme. We shall continuously see how Kenya can learn from her predecessors in space technology.