Unlocking the promise that space holds for economic growth

November 29th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT



Naledi Pandor

Some say space activity is too expensive. Others say it’s cheap. It’s certainly true that the extraordinary social and economic benefits we see are achieved at a very small percentage of global GDP – less than 0,5%. According to the OECD’s Space Economy at a Glance (2014), the space economy generated USD256,2-billion in revenue in 2013. Most of this comes from consumer services like satellite television, but a third comes from the space manufacturing supply chain, and under 10% from satellite operators.

Of course the OECD countries dominate the space economy. But times are changing. The BRICS countries have invested substantially in recent years. India, China and Russia are now leading contributors to the space economy.

Now it’s Africa’s turn. We have to talk about space, coordinate our activities, and invest for the future. For Africa to catch up with OECD countries, African governments and relevant institutions have to increase investments and awareness of the use of space for decision making processes. We must stimulate an African dialogue on the use of space for development, building African capacity in science and technology, and promoting continental coordination of space activities.

The dialogue and coordination I am talking about is beginning to yield positive results as can be seen in the emergence of space agencies in Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa. These developments have increased the appetite of African countries for developing space assets. So much so that an African Space Policy and Strategy is currently being developed by the African Union Commission through the African Ministers Committee on Science and Technology (AMCOST), and continental initiatives such as the Pan African University for Space Science and Technology and AfriGEOSS.

AfriGEOSS aims to strengthen the link between the current GEO activities for establishing a coordinated global Earth observation system of systems with existing capabilities and initiatives in Africa. It provides the necessary framework for countries and organisations to access and leverage on-going bilateral and multilateral EO-based initiatives across Africa, thereby creating synergies and minimising duplication for the benefit of the entire continent.

In South Africa, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the SA-GEO initiative play a leading coordinating role. Take SPOT imagery for example. The acquisition of imagery from the SPOT series of satellites for South African users commenced in 2006 with the signing of the Spot Image Data Reception and Distribution Agreement. It has continued under the support of the SANSA with the signing of a new Spot Data Direct Receiving Station Supply, Reception and Distribution (DRS) Agreement between SANSA and Airbus Defence and Space Systems in November 2013.

These agreements have enabled access to data from SPOT 1-7 satellites for a wide spectrum of South African users. Through these agreements, a valuable data set stretching back to 1990 is available to users. The current DRS agreement envisages that new data sets acquired from SPOT 5, 6 and 7 will be available until 2018.

Additionally, this coordination has enabled SANSA to negotiate the distribution of data from SPOT 1-7 satellites to users in SADC (both government and private sector entities) and a number of African countries outside SADC, namely Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

Coordination of space activities across the continent is vital for unlocking the promise that space holds for sustainable development and economic growth.

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