Ethiopia is in the final stages of launching its second remote-sensing satellite into space, with the help of China, as the country seeks to advance its space science development.
In an exclusive interview with The EastAfrican, the Director-General of the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI), Dr Solomon Belay, said that the country’s second satellite will be launched on December 20, 2020, from China’s Taiyuan Spacecraft Launch Site.
Named ET-SMART-RSS, the second earth observation nano-satellite was designed by Ethiopian engineers in collaboration with China’s Smart Satellite Technology Corporation under an initiative co-funded by both Ethiopia and China.
The satellite, according to Dr Solomon, has improved resolution features that would enable it to capture and send high-quality images to its command centre in Addis Ababa.
“The major mission of the second satellite is on flood and disaster prediction,” he said, adding that “agriculture and environment are also its secondary missions.”
Further, the satellite is expected to collect data in areas in Ethiopia not covered by the first one.
“The first satellite couldn’t cover all territories of Ethiopia but the second satellite will fill these gaps," Dr Solomon said.
More launch plans
The first satellite, named ETRSS-1, was launched on December 20, 2019. It is used for weather forecast, environment, and crop monitoring.
According to the officials, the data collected from space is in high demand and is being used in universities and research centres.
Ethiopia is among several African countries that have built and launched satellites to advance economic development and scientific innovation in line with the African Union policy on space development adopted in 2017.
The AU’s African space policy seeks the adoption of a framework to use satellite communication for economic progress and natural resource management on the continent.
Countries that have rolled out space programmes include South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, Morocco, and Kenya.
“During the last six months, we have delivered real satellite images to a number of sectors among others to the agriculture sector, to universities and to research centres,” Dr Solomon said.
“We are also exchanging our satellite data with many other countries especially in Asia.”
Ethiopia plans to launch more satellites into space, including a communication satellite next year.
“The demand for satellite data is still very high and to meet the high national demands, we will launch more satellites,” the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute director-general said.
“In the next 10 years, we will launch seven satellites including a communication satellite next year. We are planning to launch 10 more satellites in the next 15 years."
Ethiopia also plans to set up a satellite assembly and manufacturing plant in the country that would also serve the region.
“Once Ethiopia’s satellite assembling and manufacturing centre is completed, East African countries won’t have to send their satellites to Japan, China or Europe.
They can come to Ethiopia and test and assemble their satellites here,” Dr Solomon said.
“That would further pave the way for regional collaboration and integration,” he added.
With its Entoto Observatory and Research Centre, the only of its kind in Eastern Africa, Ethiopia has been collaborating with astronomers from around the world as well as training students from the region.
The Entoto observatory centre has two one-metre telescopes and a spectrograph to measure wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.
It is from this site that Ethiopian officials gathered last year to watch a live broadcast of the first satellite’s launch from a space station in China.
“We have good collaboration with our neighbours including Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda and other African countries and further with Asian and European countries,” Dr Solomon said.
“Our collaboration with Kenya starts from the exchange of training and expertise, and supervising students for the examination of PhDs,” said the professor of astrophysics, adding that the Office of Astronomy for Development office in Ethiopia hosted by ESSTI “encourages collaborations with universities, and research training programmes on space astronomy.”
ESSTI has also made data collected from the Ethiopian satellites accessible.
“We have developed the platform and any country or research teams can request us for satellite data online. African countries can be beneficiaries of this system,” he said.
ESSTI has previously trained students from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, and Tanzania.
While calling on governments in Africa to invest in space science, Dr Solomon said the exploration of space is not a luxury, but one that will make a difference in development, industry, technology, competency, job and wealth creation.
“I urge all African governments, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector to get involved in the space industry and activities.”
He also stressed on more international collaboration and commitment to supporting Africa gain expertise in space science technology in order for the countries to explore their own resources.