Rwanda is on course to launch its first satellite this year, joining the list of few countries in Africa that have placed the devices into orbit.
The initiative is in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The new developments were announced by the Rwanda Utility and Regulatory Authority (RURA).
“We are trying to shorten the timeline. It will be launched after the Transform Africa summit,” Patrick Nyirishema, RURA’s Director General, said.
Transform Africa is an annual event hosted in Kigali that explores developments in technology. This year it will be hosted in May.
For Rwanda, plans to launch its own satellite, and the bigger plans to initiate the long-term space programme, were first announced back in 2017.
A model of the Rwanda satellite prototype was first displayed last year by the Japan-Rwanda team of experts during the 2018 Transform Africa Summit in Kigali
Having a satellite in the orbit in today’s world is considered a leap in technological development.
Less than 10 African countries have managed to launch satellites. However, as the devices get smaller and more affordable, more African countries are planning to take advantage of data from the satellites.
A team of five Rwandan engineers are currently at the University of Tokyo working with their Japanese counterparts on the project. They have been part of the design and building of the satellite.
RURA disclosed that another team of 15 engineers will be trained locally in satellite technology, starting next month.
The Government wants to use satellite technology for different kinds of research as it looks to apply satellite data in planning.
The data will assist in areas such as precision agriculture, predicting weather patterns, including drought among other sectors.
“Satellite technology will not only build capabilities for our people, it will also give us capacity, for instance, to inspect certain activities within the agriculture sector, monitor wetlands as part of environment conservation efforts, and in smart urban planning,” Nyirishema pointed out.
The big picture
Rwanda, like many other countries that are keen on leveraging technology for development, have identified space technologies, particularly satellite, as very crucial for the development of the country.
Officials acknowledge that there is untapped potential of satellite technologies within the African continent.
The distinction between satellite technology and terrestrial based technologies is that satellite is able to deliver services at any point without being restricted to ground-based infrastructure.
“When you look at Africa as a continent, it is massive and there are large expanses of land where the most viable means to deliver any kind of services, will depend on satellite,” Nyirishema added.
In line with this, the African Union (AU) has taken a further bigger step to establish an African Space Agency – a kind of African version of NASA – to leverage space technologies for the future of the continent.
Currently, the AU is in the process of identifying the country that will host the Agency.
Nyirishema highlighted that Rwanda as a responsible and active member of the AU has found it necessary to join countries that are developing capabilities in space technologies.
But for this to be realised, there is a need for engagement of different partners, confirming the strong basis of Rwanda-Japan partnership to promote satellite programmes.