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How can space exploration benefit African countries?

African nations can leverage space assets to potentially solve the socioeconomic challenges that compromise the continent’s resilience and ability to self-actualise. 

Africa’s burgeoning space industry has to contend with the damaging disdain and paternalism of the Global North. The idea that countries receiving development funding could have the audacity to invest in the level of science and engineering that space tech needs is simply too much for the West to handle. In their eyes, anything outside the traditional areas of food security, combating disease, or battling poverty is frivolous and irresponsible. But with space tech, African countries would not have to choose between ‘starving’ populations and space exploration.

For example, satellite data provided by satellite technology can give accurate crop forecasts that would help individuals and governments prepare for food shortages. These satellites also extend access to broadband internet and, therefore, the information resources that would assist in meeting socio-economic objectives.

Here we discuss ways space technology would effectively tackle immediate and auxiliary Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Innovation and gap bridging

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has maintained throughout its existence that benefits linked to new knowledge and the technology from space exploration are innumerable. In a paper about these benefits, it lists practical impacts such as solar panels, implantable heart monitors, cancer therapy, light‐weight materials, water‐purification systems, improved computing systems, ceramic coatings in our kitchens, and air purification systems, smoke detectors, scratch-resistant glass, and a global search‐and‐rescue system. Additionally, the innovations required in space exploration such as advanced robotics and miniaturisation can improve system performance and lower overall mechanisation or production costs.

These examples demonstrate how space exploration drive new domains in science and technology, and triggers inter-sector collaboration, joint research, and development.

File picture: A technician (R) of California-based robotics company Zipline installs a small cardboard box with a paper parachute in a drone prior to its launch, on October 12, 2016 in Muhanga, Rwanda. Photo: ANP/AFP Stephanie Aglietti

More contextually, knowledge and assets from space exploration could help African countries overcome the current advancement gap and leapfrog existing structures. Essentially, addressing inequalities in income and gender to achieve more inclusive economies and allowing entrepreneurs to focus less on start-up life cycles and more on sustainable solutions for their local environments.

Health and food security

As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic was, it presented premium testing opportunities. For example, Africa news reported that in Ghana and Rwanda, Zipline, an American medical product delivery company thwarted infrastructure barriers to medical interventions by using drone technology for delivery.

Reportedly, eHealth in Nigeria leveraged space technology and analytics through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to map and track the immunisation efforts that made the country free from the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus- that has ailed it for decades.

Rwanda
President Kagame at the inauguration of Zipline’s first distribution center in Rwanda. Photo: Facebook/Zipline International Inc.

During this time in Eastern Africa, the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) used satellite imagery to co-create locust risk maps and information on locust movements to provide an advanced warning for a locust invasion.

2020, was also the year that Africa started using advanced satellite IoT technology to track and monitor animals, support conservation efforts, and supply local populations with food.

Culture and inspiration

The reason African Futurism and restoration of African culture are such emotive areas is because the entire continent is striving to retrieve an irretrievable past, one where colonialism did not happen, and vital ancestral pathways were not erased.

Space exploration stems from existential questions like: why are we here? What is beyond what we can perceive? How do we fit into the universe? Perhaps by attempting to answer the larger questions surrounding our humanity we can carve out, from now, a uniquely African future. One that we purpose to exist outside the defined archetypes we have been forced to play.

Climate action and regeneration

Space travel is made possible by the same principles of the circular economy. The ecosystem created for astronauts can show us exceptional ways of conserving the planet’s resources. Similar to the circular economy commodities are reused, repurposed, or repaired rather than thrown away. It creates a system where waste from a process becomes an input for another process thus allowing resources to maintain their highest value and replenish at a more optimal rate.

Expanding the ways in which we tackle the issues that plague our communities will disrupt the cycles that hamper us. 

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