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Space industry Africa : Development opportunities

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Space industry Africa : Development opportunities

The rapidly expanding space industry presents unparalleled opportunities for Africa’s advancement. With the potential to generate highly skilled employment, drive economic growth, and spearhead technological advancements, this sector holds significant promise. Although currently dominated by key players like Airbus and NASA, Africa could witness the rise of new manufacturers within its borders, signaling a burgeoning presence in the global space arena.

Emergence of the aerospace sector in Africa

As Africa endeavors to bridge its development gap, the continent is increasingly turning towards the space industry as a catalyst for both economic growth and societal transformation. Rooted in addressing development challenges through digital and analytical data applications, products, and services, Africa’s space sector is poised to play a pivotal role in its advancement.

The establishment of the African Space Agency (AfSA) in 2017, culminating in its official inauguration in January 2023, alongside various regional initiatives, underscores African leaders’ commitment to cultivating both global and local solutions. This concerted effort aims to promote solidarity and instill a fresh perspective on the continent’s position within the evolving space economy of the future.

According to the latest Space in Africa report, the industry is projected to expand by 16.16 % and attain a market value of 22.64 billion USD by 2026. Already, fifteen African countries have committed over 4.71 billion USD to fund 58 satellite projects. In the near term, led by Rwanda, African nations plan to collectively develop 105 satellites within the next three years, signaling a significant stride towards leveraging space technology for socioeconomic progress.

African space policy and strategy

African leaders’ approach to the aerospace industry reflects their strategic options and priorities for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set out in :

  • Agenda 2063, in which Aspiration 7 includes the desire for Africa to become a strong, united, resilient and influential global actor and partner.
  • The AU Manual, where Article 3 identifies objectives such as socio-economic integration, international cooperation, peace, security and stability as priorities.
  • The Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030) highlights the symbiotic relationship between the digital and space industries. Africa is considered to be the fastest growing digital market.
  • The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is considered the world’s largest trade agreement since the World Trade Organization (WTO), worth up to 1,000 billion USD in terms of gross domestic product (GDP).

Enhancing international space partnerships

The development of the space sector in Africa also requires support for capacity building programs on the continent. These assets (training, skills, personnel, etc.) must be reciprocated with those of more advanced space nations in order to bridge the technology transfer gap.

A number of international, inter-institutional and industry partnerships have been implemented in 2023 to strengthen local capabilities. These include:

  • Russia, through the BRICS consortium as a means to engage partners in joint scientific research.
  • The Egyptian Space Agency, which is enlisting the support of Azerbaijan and China to expand its satellite systems and manufacturing, assembly, and testing facilities.
  • The recent African Union-European Union (AU-EU) Space Dialogue further consolidates the European Union as a development partner in the region.
  • The U.S. continues to open avenues for dialogue with Africa at the U.S.-Africa Space Forum in Washington in December 2022.

Key players in Africa’s space industry

Over 300 NewSpace enterprises are actively contributing to Africa’s development by spearheading advancements in satellite systems, constellations, spacecraft components, propulsion, and various emerging technologies. Key market segments such as earth observation, positioning and navigation, and connectivity are witnessing significant growth within the continent.

On a global scale, the top 10,000 space companies boast a collective value exceeding 4,000 billion USD and have generated a staggering 427 billion USD in revenues for the year 2022. When engaging with major space entities, ensuring equitable negotiations becomes essential, emphasizing mutual reciprocity, transparency, and confidence-building measures.

Growth and challenges of space business in Africa

Within a span of just a few years, Africa has emerged as a rapidly growing satellite market, currently valued at 7 billion USD. Alongside space equipment allocations to countries such as Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa, the launch of three additional satellite projects (Rascom-QAF1, Rascom-QAF1R, and New Dawn) has brought the total number of exclusively African satellites in orbit to 35.

With the private sector wielding significant economic influence, akin to state powers, as it ventures into new markets, the landscape of space technology gains heightened infrastructural and developmental significance. Consequently, each state, and by extension, region, assumes the responsibility of charting its strategic course, encompassing diplomacy, budgetary direction, and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). Effective engagement with diverse stakeholders becomes imperative for nurturing the growth of the space industry.

Rwanda’s burgeoning space sector stands poised to reap the benefits of this investment landscape, underscored by a recent significant project valued at nearly 400 billion USD, positioning the country favorably for future growth and development in the realm of space technology.

AfSA : Recommendations for achieving the space industry’s full potential

AfSA has three main functions:

  • Harmonize policies, laws and regulations to promote regional and international cooperation.
  • Implement new laws, policies and regulations that meet the needs and expectations of member states while stimulating and accelerating the adoption and integration of space products and services.
  • Facilitate inter-institutional cooperation and effective communication among existing and future regional institutions.

To achieve these objectives, AfSA should monitor the success of governance, in particular by measuring the effectiveness of top-down versus bottom-up approaches.

Africa’s growing population and ambitions present an unprecedented opportunity. Africa will be able to test the limits of what the region has to offer through business innovation and proactive, collaborative governance.

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