The on-orbit validation of domestically developed space technology accomplished in Phase 4 will need to be followed by entrenchment of this achieved proficiency in a domestic cutting-edge space technology manufacturing base. In doing so, Kenya will start to climb one level on the space technology capability hierarchy pyramid to become a Spacecraft Manufacturer. This significant technological ascendancy will be accomplished in phase 5 and 6 of the proposed Kenya space sector road-map.
The Kenyan space agency will primarily spearhead the development and validation of space technology. These attained technological capabilities should then be seamlessly transferred, nurtured and entrenched in a domestic space technology manufacturing base. This is an essential part of the process to cultivate a domestic space sector. Such a move ultimately guarantees that the space agency retains its focus on trailblazing space technology research and innovation.
As we noted earlier, a vibrant cutting-edge domestic space technology manufacturing capability is an indispensable component of the envisioned Kenya space sector. The national space agency will hence play a crucial role of spawning and sustaining a vibrant local space technology manufacturing base. Consequently, an innovative technology-transfer and technology-seeding framework is an indispensable ingredient in the Kenya space sector creation process.
Kenya’s exemplary experiences in the effervescent mobile phone technology (and ICT sector in general) could serve to significantly inspire the composition of such a technology incubation framework. This approach will represent part of the non-traditional entrepreneurial path that we previously recommended for Kenya in her quest to adopt space technology for an expedited national development agenda. Moreover, such a technology-transfer framework would also play a crucial role in creating space-technology spin-offs that are characteristic of the business of space. Hence this technology-transfer framework would contribute towards snowballing the benefits of space technology to the Kenyan society.
The seeding of spacecraft components manufacturing know-how would initially involve the fabrication of individual space qualified parts such spacecraft bus parts, momentum wheels, harnesses, printed circuit boards etc. The Kenyan space agency would set the policies, standards, and requirements to be adhered to by the various manufacturing players. Institutions of higher learning and existing high-tech manufacturers specializing in closely related technology should be encouraged to participate in this endeavor in order to leverage on all available local resources. Phase 5 of the Kenya space sector road-map would hence primarily focus on entrenching the cutting-edge competency required in the fabrication of individual space components. If necessary, new entities should be incubated within the space agency’s technology innovation network; or, subsidies and technical expertise be made available to Kenyan firms committed to being part of the Kenya space sector. This is a common practice globally for instance in the case of SpaceX and United Launch Alliance in the United States.
Fabrication of complete spacecraft assemblies and subsystems would next be pursued after the expertise to fabricate individual spacecraft components has been comprehensively mastered and entrenched in the domestic space technology manufacturing base. The primary role of players occupying this part of the Kenya space sector is to supply the components and subsystems for both the spacecraft and the mission supporting ground based infrastructure. An assembly is made up of a collection of parts e.g. a reaction wheel assembly composed of the momentum wheel, rotating mechanisms and the controlling electronics. Conversely, a subsystem is made up of parts and assemblies e.g. attitude determination and control subsystem is made up of the various sensor assemblies, actuator assemblies, mechanisms, harnesses and controlling electronics.
Integration of the actual spacecraft system occurs after the parts, assemblies and systems (system components) have been sourced. It is not uncommon for the spacecraft system integrator to be a separate entity from the components supplier. In the Kenyan context, the primary integrating entity is initially envisioned to be the national space agency. The spacecraft integrator would also perform the entire spacecraft system verification of compliance to requirements; testing and validation of the spacecraft system to deliver the desired results while in orbit. Spacecraft integration, verification and validation activities will dominate phase 6 of the Kenya space sector road-map.
The development of an indigenous launch capability will still be on-going in this phase but unlikely to have attained a maturity level. Work in this area would by now have significantly progressed beyond sounding rockets and geared towards proposals for a low to medium scale launch vehicle proposals. Technical design requirements for the initial launch vehicle such as the payload capacity (i.e. mass to be carried to orbit), propellant type(s), dimensions, motor specifications etc. should be extensively addressed in these phases.
The local space sector will grow commensurately with the number, size and sophistication of missions pursued by the Kenyan space program as a whole. This is because a single successful space mission is the culmination of efforts from all players in the space sector e.g. academic institutions, the national space agency, space technology industrial manufacturers etc. Phase 5 and 6 could take 5 to 25 years before Kenya can unequivocally regarded as a spacecraft manufacturer.