November 16 and 17, 2017 will always be a memorable date in the discourse of African space technology.
Over 100 delegates with representatives from different countries around the world converged on Akure, the Ondo State Capital(Nigeria) for the first African Space Generation Workshop. The event which lasted for two days was organised by the Space Generation Advisory Council(African Region) and hosted by the Centre for Space Research and Applications( CESRA-FUTA).
SGAC in support of the United Nations Programme on Space applications is a global non-governmental, non-profit organisation and network which aims to represent university students and young space professionals within the ages of 18-35 to the United Nations, space agencies, industry, and the academia. Hence the event was focused on bringing together students and young professionals interested in space in the region.
“The workshop was a learning experience for us. It is very good. It brought some of the African countries together and revealed some insights of how strong we can be if we unite and work together to discuss our problems and challenges, with a view to finding solutions”- Nebiyat(Ethopia)
The AF-SGW with the theme- Space: The Driver of the Desired Future in Africa featured discussions aimed at producing recommendations to public, private and nongovernmental stakeholders. The recommendations are towards shaping and providing insights into the future of the African space sector.
Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu represented by his deputy, Hon. Agboola Ajayi declared the workshop open. He expressed optimism that the state government will engage all relevant technology solutions aimed at solving the various socio-economic issues in the state. The Governor expressed excitement that this is happening in the state following the participation of the Federal University of Technology Akure in the BIRDS programme to launch a CubeSat earlier this year.
The Governor added that his administration is not oblivious to the ability of satellite technology to help in getting the needed data for policymakers in engaging several intervention projects. He then called for more efforts to be made across the board to increase the participation of Africa in the space evolution.
The workshop featured four working groups with industry mentors providing tangible recommendations on how the industry in Africa can go to the next level. The groups were: Space technologies development in Africa, Role of STEAM in developing the space industry in Africa, Space in driving the African economy/Aerospace startup and African space policy. I was in the working group that discussed “Space in driving the African” economy where we discussed the various value chains that African techpreneurs/countries can exploit in achieving economic success. I will share my notes soon.
It also featured a panel discussion on career building and development. Jeff Demain(CEO, Hantheon) ,Oluseye Soyode Johnson( African Technology Foundation), Hansley Noruthun (NPoC Mauritius), Maryanne Muriuki ( NPoC Kenya) and Funmi Erinfolami ( Outgoing NPoC Nigeria) shared thoughts on available opportunities and career drifts that Africans can leverage on in the space ecosystem. Former SGAC Executive Secretary, Ramasamy Venugopal moderated the session.
As part of the Workshop’s keynote sessions, Managing Director of the Nigerian Communications Satelite limited and Alumnus of the International Space University, Abimbola Alele gave a talk on connecting Africa using Satellite technologies; a case study of NIGCOMSAT. She shared various ways on how Nigeria’s satellite is being deployed in various areas across the world in getting required satellite data for several intervention projects. According to her, the NigComSat-1R system provides domestic and international satellite services via a 2-way satellite communications service across West, Central, South East Africa; Europe and Asia.
Dr. Ganiyu Agbaje( Director of the African Regional Centre or Space Science and Technology education in English) also spoke on equipping African Youths for the Future.
Benjamin Bonsu from All Nations University College, Ghana and Ghana Cubesat lead also spoke on the Utilization of Lean Satellite Development program to boost University Space Activities in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals in Africa.
National Point of Contact( NPOc) for Mauritius, Hansley Noruthun also shared insights on how his country is advancing its space technology programme.
“In Mauritius, we are working towards getting more kids involved in the early stage through the STEAM projects. We are also considering working with technologies that are specific to the issues in the country. Collaboration is key, as we continue on this journey of capacity building, infrastructure and see how we can further collaborate and research into areas of interest” – Hansley Noruthun( NPOc- Mauritius).
For the ignite sessions, Chineye Vivian James spoke on how her team at Brainiacs is working on democratizing STEAM education in Nigeria, Kitan David charged participants on driving productivity with the aid of technology: The New Normal while Emmanuel Odunlade from DevDistrict gave an ignite talk on solving Africa-centric problems with the application of space technologies.
Other Keynote addresses during the workshop included one from Professor Oludayo Olugbara( Space Centre, Durban University of Technology), Professor J.O. Akinyede who spoke on the University Satellite programme(FUTA) and Dr. O. A. Dahunsi on the Unique Opportunities and applications of future BIRDS: Nigeria’s perspectives.
CEO of Hantheon, Jeff Demain also shared insights on how Africa can leverage the various opportunities and platforms to join the community of nations exploring space for beneficial purposes. The Workshop also featured a talk from a professor of the school that hosted the BIRD projects(Which Ghana and Nigeria) took part of, KyuTECH in Japan; Professor Maeda made a presentation on the project and added that, there are still opportunities for more countries who want to be a part of the cubeSAT project. Hence, more universities and countries can work on getting this done- A part I feel Dr Okeke from the University of Nigeria may be looking to exploit.
“For the continent, we need to look beyond the space programme to how we can advance space satellites to go beyond just sensing to processing more of the data at the satellite level. We can engage in building more smart satellites that can turn raw data to usable information as close to where the data is collected as possible. For example, a farmer that needs information(processed satellite data) on the spread of pests or diseases, sometimes temperature and climate issues, it will be easier for him to work with a ready-made processed information than raw data – This works for the academia.” – Jeff Demain (CEO Hantheon)
Professor Romanus Eze from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka emphasised that the government needs to do more to encourage the learning and interest level of astronomy in the country. He opined that the government can refurbish some radio dish assets in the country for use in assessing data that can be used in the study of some Space elements. He lamented the reality of the absence of a perfectly working major telescope in the country. With the level of passion he had in his voice, most likely UNN will be the next University to launch a CubeSat.
The main reason I came over is because I am interested in understanding the aerospace industry in Africa – Current opportunities and so on. My working group focused on how to know the value chains in the industry and dissected the market product fit; understanding the economic value to the continent and by extension—the people – Christoper Luwanga, Malawi
Yeah! The workshop wouldn’t have ended without listening to someone who has etched himself in the Nigerian space history and integral part of FUTA’s participation in the birds project, Ibukun Adebolu. He shared his experience and what the development means for the Nigerian space industry.
“Africa certainly has a play in software development, advancing state of the art technology across data centres, big data analytics. The continent has talented people and experiences in these areas” – Jeff Demain
With participation from delegates from around Africa, we hope the continent can move from tales by moonlights to tales from moonlights and stars on the bases of technology.