NAIROBI, KENYA: The Kenya Space Agency (KSA) has entered into a pact with the Kenya Forest Service towards utilisation of space and space technologies to develop forestry solutions in forest fires monitoring and mapping, land cover, and use imagery, and forest types areas.
The two organisations are implementing a research project on the development of Earth observation applications using the Google Earth Engine (GEE) platform aimed at developing products on forest management.
The Service has already nominated two GIS/remote sensing technical officers in a joint team with KSA to co-develop products on natural resource management using GEE platforms.
“This program has a component of training for the team on GEE by Earth Observation Data Science. The partnership is symbiotic as it will enable both entities to achieve their strategic plans,” said KFS in a statement.
The project study areas will focus on Aberdares, Ngong Hill forest, and Kwale County mangrove ecosystems.
In recent years, Kenya has made remarkable strides in space science. Even though the country has had a rich history in space activities since the 1960s, President Uhuru Kenyatta's 2017 gazette notice amplified Kenya's interest in space innovations, establishing the Kenya Space Agency, one of just five space institutions in Africa at the time. The agency was tasked with the mandate of coordinating, regulating, and promoting Kenya's development of the space sector.
In 2018, Kenya made an even larger stride, when undergraduates from the University of Nairobi, in collaboration with the University of Rome, impressively developed and launched a nano-satellite, named the 1st Kenya University Nano Satellite –Precursor Flight (1KU NS-PF), from Japan.
Building on these gains, the Kenya Space Agency, on Wednesday, launched a strategic plan to guide Kenya's space programs between 2020 and 2025.
The strategic plan, launched by Defense Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma, is a bold and ambitious effort to propel Kenya's space science, one that will position the country among the big global leagues and set the pace for a new technological dawn for Kenya.
Under the strategic plan, the space agency intends to undertake more intensive space programs, including the developing and launching of more Kenyan satellites into space.
To attain the target, the body is betting heavily on the innovation of local university students, a bet that the University of Nairobi already proved possible in 2018, when the institution's undergraduates successfully developed and launched a nano-satellite.
Coinciding with the launch of the strategic plan, the agency awarded funding to several universities, which will boost the country's space innovations.
The University of Eldoret, Taita Taveta University, and the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology obtained funding that will enable them to collaborate in innovations in the sphere of operational space weather.
On the other hand, Moi University, University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Technical University of Kenya, and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology obtained funding that will enable them to develop nano-satellites.
The plan also hinges heavily on Kenya's strong historical alliance with Italy to grow Kenya's space sector, an industry that is valued at trillions of shillings.
Just last week, parliament ratified a bilateral agreement with Italy, regarding the Italian-run Luigi Broglio Space Center in Malindi, from where many of the new space programs and explorations by the Kenya Space Agency will be undertaken.
However, Kenya's history with Italy in space goes further back and the European country is Kenya's oldest ally in space.
"Kenya's history of space activities dates back to the 1960s with the establishment of a Satellite Launching and Tracking Base in Malindi, in collaboration with Italy. Over 20 sounding rockets and nine satellites were launched from the facility between 1967 and 1988," KSA said in a statement.
Kenya also launched the Longonot Earth Station, which started operations in 1970, with the country later building several other stations across the country.
On December 12, 1970, Kenya designed and launched 'Uhuru', its first satellite, which was launched from the San Marco Platform in Malindi. The satellite comprehensively surveyed the sky for X-ray sources, concluding in March 1973.
Kenya will also rely on its geographical advantage in intensifying its space explorations.
"In 1962, Italy approached Kenya to explore the possibility of establishing a launching and tracking station along the Kenyan coast. It was clear then, as it is today that Kenya holds a vital location within the East African coast. It is therefore important that we harness this geographic advantage in space science," CS Juma said.
Kenya's attractive geographic location has also recently attracted the Chinese, who are keen on entering a space exploration partnership with Kenya.
But the space ventures are about more than Kenya showing its might.
According to CS Juma, the ambitious plans as Kenya ventures into space will benefit the country in terms of security, disaster management, management of natural resources, surveillance, agriculture, and food security, telemedicine, and other forms of socio-economic development, contributing to the attainment of the Big Four Agenda and Vision 2030.
"The space-derived data can be used to understand, prevent, and mitigate natural disasters," said Joy Kirui, an environmental scientist.
Experts at the event also noted that data derived using technology can be used for observations, thereby improving precision agriculture and, therefore, improving crop yields.
The space data will also facilitate spatial mapping of health facilities and health coverage, thereby improving the country's health sector.