Kenya turns to space in vicious fight against the climate crisis

From left: Indian High Commissioner to Kenya Namgya Khampa, Defence CS Aden Duale, Climate Change CS Soipan Tuya and Italian Ambassador to Kenya Roberto Natali during the Kenya Space Expo and Conference 2024 in Nairobi on June 18, 2024

Photo credit: BONFACE BOGITA| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Kenya is also collaborating with Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan and Uganda to build an earth observation satellite for environmental monitoring in the region.
  • The aim is to harness vital space drive data that will help mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change.

Kenya, Egypt and Uganda have jointly developed an imaging system that will be hosted at the International Space Station (ISS) for monitoring climate change, the government says.

The move is part of Kenya’s ambitious plan to use space technologies to enable environmental monitoring and facilitate mitigation of contemporary threats to human security and public safety, including extreme weather events

According to the government, satellite imagery, global navigation satellite systems, geographic information systems and other digital technologies have increased efficiency and accuracy in mapping, spatial planning infrastructure planning and land use monitoring. They also form a solid foundation for effective digital land governance.

While explaining Kenya’s space plan to delegates during the official opening of the Kenya Space Expo & Conference 2024 in Nairobi themed “Space Technologies for Societal Benefits”, Ambassador Philip Thigo, the special envoy on Technology, painted a captivating picture.

“The idea is in 2024, how can we use space to enable the 15 billion tree planting initiative? This is regarding the capability of space to map an existing forest in pixels so that the private sector can understand and resource the pixels,” he said.

“How do we begin to understand the ravages of climate change? They are becoming very frequent. We had floods last November and March year. How do we map the entire country and predict landslides and for the first time have flood assembly points like fire assembly points?” He posed.

Kenya is also collaborating with Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan and Uganda to build an earth observation satellite for environmental monitoring in the region. The aim is to harness vital space drive data that will help mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change.

Speaking during the conference, Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale explained that space technologies and related applications support key productive sectors of national economies, including communications, digital economy, agriculture, natural resources, transportation, supply chain, infrastructure, blue economy and energy.

“The government acknowledges the crucial role that the space economy can play in national development, particularly in the realisation of national development blueprint Vision 2030, the Fourth Medium Term Plan and our administration’s bottom-up economic transformation agenda,” he said.

He added that Kenya also intends to foster its peaceful use of outer space by collaborating with South Africa, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Ghana in developing indigenous capacity in space systems engineering, enhanced utilisation of space services, technologies, and applications in socio-economic development through joint projects.

“Space-based or space-enabled technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent in our daily lives. We now have ride-hailing apps such as Uber, Bolt, Little and many others that are pervasive and common-use with global reach, thanks to satellite-based technology that connects drivers and riders and provides navigation services,” the CS said, adding that such an industry would not have been possible without space technologies.

“Through collaborations, Kenya has built human and technical capacity, and national space capability in space science, space systems engineering, earth observation and remote sensing, space policy and law, and development of applications for harnessing space-derived data. The collaborations have also facilitated sharing of lessons learnt and exchange of ideas on best practices and innovations,” he said.

CS Duale lauded the country’s long-standing strategic relationship with Italy through the Luigi Broglio-Malindi Space Centre.

“At the Malindi facility, plans are underway to establish a Centre for Earth Observation with assistance from the Italian Space Agency. The centre will give Kenya access to numerous earth observation and remote sensing datasets and processing capabilities for decision support and planning.”

The Italian space agency will also establish an international training centre for space education and a centre for CubeSat development, intended to train and apprentice Kenya’s budding engineers in space systems engineering.

This is why the government of Italy has provided 15 fully paid PhD scholarships on Earth Observation to Kenyan nationals, and the nominees for the PhD programme will begin their studies in September this year.

But why is the government interested in space? A recent survey report by McKinsey & Company highlights that the global space economy was worth US $630 billion in 2023 and is projected to reach US $1.8 trillion by 2035.

This means that the space economy is expected to become ubiquitous, thus creating value for multiple industries and providing solutions to many of the world’s pressing challenges.

It also means that space will constitute a larger part of the global economy by 2035, with the growth expected to be driven by space-based and/or space-enabled technologies such as communications, positioning, navigation and timing, and Earth observation.

“Kenya cannot afford to be left behind in this favourable future outlook for the global space economy. That is why as a government, we are taking our national space programme seriously. We are committing to invest the necessary resources to recoup on the returns on investment, including economic, technological, social and geopolitical benefits,” CS Duale told delegates attending the conference.

In April last year, Taifa-1, Kenya’s first operational earth observation satellite, launched into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, US.

US-based Space-X, which manufactures and launches the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft, had earlier cancelled the lift-off of the Falcon 9 rocket three times due to bad weather.

In that week, the initial launch had been slated for a Monday, but it was delayed by 24 hours due to bad weather.

On Tuesday, the mission was again delayed to Friday 9:48 EAT in the hope that by then, there would be improved weather conditions, but an attempt to launch amid the bad weather was stopped by the director of the mission , who called it to hold slightly before lift-off as the weather conditions could not permit the mission.

Thus, the launch was postponed again by 24 hours to Saturday morning at 9:48 EAT, when the rocket blasted off into space and, approximately nine minutes later, returned to Earth, touching down on Space X’s Landing Zone 4.

The 70-metre-tall rocket is a smallsat rideshare rocket that also launched 50 other satellites into orbit, including CubeSats, microsats, payloads, and Turkey’s 800 kg high-resolution earth observation satellite.

The satellites are being used to collect greenhouse emission data, hyperspectral images and data for research.

Taifa-1 is a 3U earth observation satellite developed and designed by Kenyans, but it was manufactured at Endurosat in Bulgaria in two years at a cost of Sh50 million.

There are about six types of artificial satellites in the world, which vary in size and attitude and are deployed depending on their purpose. The largest is the International Space Station, which serves as a habitable space lab.

An earth observation satellite is used to capture images of the earth; and some are flown low to produce more detailed images.