Is Kenya Prepared to Establish a Local Space Sector?

In order for Kenya to successfully adopt space technology, the country must assimilate and independently utilize this technology in an efficacious manner. Consequently, we shall scrutinize Kenya’s preparedness to absorb space technology and its potential to establish an entire space sector from scratch.

Establishment of a flourishing indigenous space sector requires a dynamic and innovative synergism between the permeating extrinsic technology and the prevailing local capacity to absorb it. Kenya’s preparedness to assimilate space technology will be significantly determined by the domestic capacity to conduct scientific research and disseminate the research findings for utilization in sustainable national development. Bolstering Kenya’s ability to effectively conduct science and technology research will hence enhance her capacity to assimilate and independently utilize space technology.

To examine Kenya’s preparedness to assimilate space technology and establish a space sector; we shall scrutinize Kenya’s i) Societal Preparedness, ii) Organizational Preparedness, iii) Human Preparedness and iv) Geographical Preparedness.

     1.   Societal Preparedness

Societal preparedness refers to the country’s political, legal and governance readiness to embrace space technology. Political will is an indispensable ingredient for creating the prerequisite legal, fiscal and regulatory frameworks to guide the envisioned space sector.

Since attaining independence, Kenya has been a democracy that embraces universal suffrage and has regularly conducted elections every five years. The country has three independent arms of government—executive, judiciary and legislature. Moreover, the promulgation of a new constitution in August 2010 served to embolden the rule of law, promote democratic accountability and deepen the efficacy of devolved democratic institutions. Such a societal environment is likewise technologically salubrious and is certain to expedite the formal establishment of a space sector.

As a society, Kenya is hence considerably prepared to embrace space technology and nurture a prosperous domestic space sector. The foundation required to create the necessary legal, fiscal and regulatory frameworks is well rooted and integrated in the national psyche.

Kenya enjoys cordial diplomatic relations with a plethora of countries including those that possess advanced space technology programs. The nation has embassies in these space technology leaders found in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Japan etc. Consequently, the presence of a formal representation of the Kenyan society in these states will significantly facilitate the transfer of space technology capabilities.

     2.   Organizational Preparedness

Organizational preparedness examines the readiness of Kenyan-established and Kenyan-affiliated institutional frameworks that will directly play a role in establishing a domestic space sector. These institutions can be categorized to possess either a national, regional or global dispensation.

Kenya is a member of important global organizations involved in space science and technology such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) etc. As a result, Kenya enjoys all the privileges and services accorded to all signatory states such as:

  • Promotion of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
  • Encouraging of research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters.
  • Assistance with legal problems emanating from the exploration of outer space.
  • International space technology transfer, research and training.

Therefore, Kenya’s readiness to assimilate space technology; facilitated by her affiliation to pertinent multilateral global institutions is fairly robust. This position will have to be further strengthened through additional bilateral and multilateral engagements with world institutions that champion utilization of space technology. Examples of such entities include Group on Earth Observations (GEO), International Space Station, Square Kilometre Array (SKA), Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and so on. The longstanding Kenya-Italy San-Marco space project collaboration is a notable bilateral inter-governmental organizational capacity in space technology that should be replicated to further enhance Kenya’s preparedness to establish a space sector.

Kenya hosts crucial regional institutional frameworks that elevate her preparedness to embrace space technology and subsequently establish an indigenous space sector. Notable among these is the the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) located in Nairobi. This institution focuses on provision of Geo-Information and allied ICT products and services in environmental and resource management to its 18 member states. As an international premier center for application of satellite earth observation data and GIS, RCMRD amplifies Kenya’s preparedness to assimilate space technology and establish a space sector. The East African Community (EAC) further provides a regional institutional framework essential to facilitating regional policy and inter-governmental cooperation in space technology. As a regional economic powerhouse Kenya the potential to establish a space sector that will have a regional impact.

Institutions of higher learning represent the focal indication of Kenya’s preparedness to embrace space technology. Presently, Kenya has 30 universities 7 of which are public and 23 private. Further, the 7 public universities oversee 12 constituent colleges. This represents a considerable institutional organization preparedness to assimilate the advanced training requirements of space technology. These institutions will serve as the focal points for research and innovation in space science and technology.

Institutions of higher learning are the engine that will drive the proposed space sector by providing both skilled labor and innovative high-tech products and ideas. Specialized STEM universities like Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, Kenya Multimedia University etc are particularly poised to play a leading role in absorbing space technology training and research requirements.

Inversely, national organizations and research labs that cater specifically to space technology require to be established from scratch. Therefore, though a notable national institutional preparedness to establish a space sector presently exists; there is need to inaugurate new specialized institutions; revamp existing ones; and, introduce space science and technology curricula in the national higher education and innovation system.

     3.   Human Preparedness

Human capacity preparedness refers to the readiness of individual Kenyans to grasp space science and technology competence. Kenya has more than 140,000 students enrolled in local universities and an additional number pursuing university education abroad. For instance, more 7000 are officially enrolled in US universities alone. These figures have exhibited a sustained upward growth and this trend is envisioned to persist because the government and private entities continue to establish new higher learning institutions. Space science and technology can be broadly categorized into the following five broad Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) areas:

• spacecraft subsystems engineering • launch and space transportation systems • information and communication networks • humans in aerospace • outer space and earth observation science.

Consequently, university graduates in STEM subjects are particularly pivotal in measuring human capacity preparedness to assimilate space science and technology in Kenya. Since Kenyan human capacity already possesses a rich STEM subject legacy, the country is once again fairly well poised to establish a space sector. However, this capacity needs to be broadened by imparting the local human capacity with space science and technology knowledge and skills. This will further be complemented by Kenyan professionals in the diaspora already working in the space industry.

     4.   Geographic Preparedness

A country’s geographic location on earth directly influences her access to space and effective utilization of space based technology. Specifically, the cost of placing satellites in lowly inclined orbits or receiving signals from such orbiting platforms is directly related to the earth’s latitude. Most communication satellites (voice and data) relaying telephone, Internet and television signals are launched into near zero inclination geostationary orbits. Consequently, such satellites are normally launched from locations of close proximity to the equator as possible in order to minimize the cost of  achieving the intended orbital inclination. The cost of achieving this orbit considerably increases in tandem with a rising latitude due the mandatory orbital plane change.

Due to her equatorial geographic location, with the equator (00 latitude) basically bisecting the country in two, Kenya is geographically primed to establish a space sector that will exploit the merits associated with her geophysical location.

Furthermore, rockets are traditionally launched due east over a vast flight path devoid of ground human presence. Kenya is bordered by the vast Indian Ocean to the east which provides a valuable natural staging area to safely conduct rocket launches.

It is these unique attributes of Kenya’s geophysical location that have elicited numerous initiatives within the private sector advocating for the creation of a spaceport (See the FUTRON and NSBE proposals). A spaceport or cosmodrome is a purposely built facility serving to launch and receive spacecraft in order to enable effective access to space. Such a facility can mirror the approach adopted in developing Konza Techno City (dubbed the Silicon Savannah) because it has the potential to generate a similar impact on Kenya’s sustainable growth.

Kenya’s central geophysical location on the African continent also makes her an attractive choice to host continent-wide initiatives in space science and technology. The nation is therefore fortunately endowed in her geographical preparedness to assimilate space technology and subsequently establish a space sector.

In conclusion, it is evident that Kenya is aptly prepared to assimilate space technology and subsequently establish a space sector. Achievable investments in initial fundamental initiatives will firmly put the country on this propitious path thereby expediting sustainable development.

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