Kenya to launch space centre

The country is in the final stages of establishing a space centre, the equivalent of National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) agency, a project that will propel Kenya to the elite club of a few countries in the world that own earth observation satellites.

The space centre that is projected to cost to the tune of Sh10 billion for a constellation of earth observation satellites is expected to boost the country's security as well as provide solutions in the agriculture, education and medical sectors.

Experts, military and government officials who are spearheading the National Space Policy, Strategy and Space Agency Order have told the Standard  that proposals on establishment of a Space centre  will be included in the cabinet docket before the end of June.

The project is being spearheaded by the Office of the Deputy President and Ministry of Defence with Dr John Kimani (the lead Scientist at the Ministry of Defence), Prof Paul Baki and Prof Hunja Waithaka as the lead scientists.

"This is a major breakthrough for the country in our efforts to ensure that we become a country with a space centre," Dr John Kimani, the lead Scientist at the Ministry of Defence said.

If established, the centre will end over three decades wait for a national space policy and strategy since the country opened discussions of establishing a Space Centre in the year 1983.

It will also have  Kenya transition from a passive user of space and space technologies to a contributor to the development of space technology.

According to scientists, the country is strategically located at a point where it will exhaust the space project for massive economic growth and creation of jobs.

"Kenya's strategic outer space includes the geographic location along the equator and bordering the Indian Ocean to its East that facilitates ease of landing of space crafts, tracking of space crafts in space, and ease of access to equatorial orbits, and in particular the geostationary orbit," the Policy order reads.

Lilian Abishai, a senior Counsel at the Office of the Attorney General, said that all the necessary legal instruments are being prepared so that the space centre will conform to both local laws and international conventions and treaties.

"An Order has been established through which the Space Agency will succeed the National Space Secretariat that is currently under the Ministry of Defence, "she said.

Kenya is developing a space centre in its efforts to develop viable home grown space industry and enhance coordination of space related activities by establishing linkages among government agencies and institutions, industry and researchers.

The country is expected to spend dozens of billions of shillings if the project is expected to be realized.

"It's an expensive industry. You don't put money today and expect results tomorrow," Prof Waithaka told the Standard.

Prof Waithaka estimates that a single earth observation satellite will cost about Sh3 billion together with its support systems.

Prof O.L.E Mbuthia, a policy expert at the University of Nairobi, says that the costs might look astronomical for the common man but they are a necessity for a country that wants to develop.

"People will ask why spend a lot of money in space while little has been done on the ground. They have to be told that scientists have to advance knowledge and this has no limit," Prof Mbuthia says.

If the project is realised, the scientists have promised a change of fortunes for the country.

" Through space science we can be able to monitor projects like the one million acre Galana project and scientifically establish sections that need watering, track cattle rustlers, train people in remote areas through tele-education and even have doctors pass medical opinions and offer treatment through telemedicine," says Dr Kimani.

Only Two African countries have satellites

The plans will see Kenya enter the elite club of African countries that have space centres. Only Nigeria and Algeria have earth observation satellites while South Africa is finalising the process of establishing one.

Like Kenya, Ghana, Egypt and Gabon have also initiated space projects.

Due to the massive investments required for the space projects, various African countries have joined hands to establish the Africa Resource and Environment Management Satellite Constellation that will spearhead the development of a reliable space centre in Africa.

"The government has already given us seed money to participate in the initiative," Dr Kimani says.

Since independence, the country's initiatives in space have included the San Marco Malindi satellite launching and tracking station and satellite communication through the Longonot and Kericho Earth stations.

MP Wilberforce Otchillo who was involved in the initial plan for the drafting of a national space police and strategy said that parliament has already all the motions required for the establishment of the space centre.

In 2011, a motion by the Otchillo on motion urging the country to develop a space agency received overwhelming support in parliament.