Kenya has selected Marsabit County as the most suitable out of seven contenders to set up a spaceport.
This is according to a report commissioned by engineering firm Viwanda Africa Group in collaboration with Longshot Space Technology, and a team of engineering researchers from Kenyatta and Nairobi universities.
Other counties that were considered are Laikipia, Kilifi, Tana River, Isiolo, Turkana and Narok.
A spaceport or cosmodrome is a site for launching or receiving spacecraft, similar to a seaport for ships or an airport for aircraft.
The Kenya Spaceport Research, which drew data from various national and global organisations, as well as guidance from the Kenya Space Agency (KSA), carried out assessments in all the seven counties, with Marsabit emerging as the most favourable location due to its large tracts of unoccupied and affordable land, sparse population, low-traffic airspace and generally flat terrain.
Speaking while receiving the report on Tuesday, KSA Director-General Hilary Kipkosgey said the benefits of establishing a spaceport capable of launching rockets ware numerous and would positively impact on the growth of the country’s space ambitions.
“The development of this spaceport will foster research, innovation and growth of knowledge within this country, rippling out to Kenya taking the lead globally as a significant player in the space sector,” he noted.
He added that the development of such highly innovative industries provides current and future employment opportunities in many sectors, and the potential for growth in supporting industries.
“The space sector requires innovative, committed and forward thinking minds; something our young people have in abundance. This is, therefore, an area Kenya can grow and lead in,” Col Kipkosgey noted.
Viwanda Africa chief executive Nyambura Kamau revealed that the interest to carry out the survey in Kenya originated from the geographic advantages the country sits on as a potential launch site, an interest shared by the US-based space start-up company Longshot.
“If you look at a world map, you see that Kenya is among six or seven countries in the world with ideal placement for a space launch. After researching Kenya and paying a visit to Nairobi, I discovered a further advantage the nation has which may make it unique in the world; its people,” noted Longshot Space Technology’s Mike Grace.
Kenya has a geographical advantage due to its lateral coordinates. Its location on the equator provides a space vehicle being launched from Kenya with a “speed boost” equivalent to an additional speed of 1,650km/h, due to the earth’s rotation. This allows the launch vehicle to save energy and carry heavier payloads into space.
The report provides a strong initial examination on the viability of establishing a spaceport in Kenya, said the chairperson of Kenyatta University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering Victor Mwongera, who doubles as principal investigator and aerospace engineer.
“The report examines the benefits of establishing the spaceport, the ideal location, the considerations that must be made, its commercial viability, as well as how the private and public sector should work together to make it a reality. The case made here shows that establishment of the spaceport is not only a viable idea, but something that we as a nation should aim to pursue,” said Dr Mwongera.
It is estimated that the initial stage of the spaceport construction will cost Sh5 billion. The annual operational expenses will be Sh7 billion and it will generate a revenue of Sh1 billion per launch, with an estimate of five launches within the first year of construction and an exponential rise to 60 launches by the tenth year of operation.
Research was conducted on the physical, economic, environmental, social, political and cultural factors. A decision matrix was then used to analyse the 47 counties based on the primary factors that affect the location of a spaceport, availability of land and population density.
An analysis was then conducted on the seven counties, and a second decision matrix done. Based on these analyses, Marsabit was identified as the ideal location.
Apart from the other factors, Marsabit has connectivity to the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor. The existence of restricted military airspace in the region also makes it easier to launch vehicles without disruption to normal air traffic.