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    Rwanda On Course To Establish Space Industry

    The Minister for ICT and Innovation Paula Ingabire holds Rwanda's first CubeSat, known as RWASAT-1, in Kigali on May 16, 2019. It was sent into orbit in November. Photo: File
    A few years ago, sending a satellite into space was unheard of for less developed countries because it required heavy financial muscle. It became global news when Rwanda announced in 2017 plans to launch its own satellite into the orbit. But it wasn’t until November last year that the government together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sent the inaugural satellite into space. That highlighted a step into the direction and heightened the country’s technological prestige, thanks to the shrinking cost and size of satellite production.

    A few years ago, sending a satellite into space was unheard of for less developed countries because it required heavy financial muscle. Previously, it could take as much as $500 million to send a satellite into space, according to available estimates. Only countries like Russia, United States, China, Japan, could afford the price of having space technology, which also gave them the advantage to control several world’s agendas. But as technology advances, developing countries are taking advantage to establish their own space programmes.

    Rwanda Public Regulatory Agency (RURA), and the University of Tokyo, and are proceeding with the development of the joint development satellite RWASAT1. 
    Today, countries that were unable to have space programmes in the past are now leveraging linear technologies to launch their own satellites into space. Rwanda became among the very few countries in the region to do so, when its first CubeSat, known as RWASAT-1, was sent into orbit in November.
    Algeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria are some of the countries in the region that have successful orbited satellites.

    RWASAT-1 was launched from the Tanegashima spaceport in Japan (Earth) on September 24, 2019, and into orbit from the International Space Station on November 20, 2019. Patrick Nyirishema, Director-General of the Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority (RURA), told The New Times this week that the satellite has since been operational. “After its deployment from the International Space Station, RWASAT-1 has been operational, mostly used for experimental data and capacity building,” he noted.

    Nyirishema said the global Covid-19 pandemic affected some of the activities since Japanese experts could not travel to Rwanda as previously planned to carry out joint activities. From the orbit, RWASAT-1 was expected to be sending information to ground stations, which Agriculture institutions will utilize to make informed decisions in the prediction of crop yields as well as soil moisture monitoring.

    RWASAT-1 has antennas alongside two multispectral cameras on board that communicate with deployed ground sensors in Rwanda. Japanese experts would work with Rwandan experts to realise that.

    Space agency

    This year in May, the Government approved a draft law establishing the Rwanda Space Agency (RSA), signalling yet another step towards promoting advancement in earth observation technologies.
    Nyirishema said the decision to establish the agency was informed by the vision to harness capabilities offered by outer space technologies for Rwanda and Africa’s development. “Since cabinet already approved the establishment of the agency, it’s expected to be operational soon,” he said, without specifying when. The agency was supposed to be operational by July this year.

    According to the RURA boss, RSA will mean advancement of socio-economic landscape through improved spatial data for decision making and establishment of a local space industry. Going forward, he said, the expectation is to see much more momentum since the current efforts will have been institutionalised.

    RSA will be well positioned to form strategic partnerships and build national capabilities towards Rwanda’s development, leveraging space technology. Yves Hategekimana, a Rwandan researcher at Aerospace Information Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, describes Rwanda’s move to launch satellites into space as a privilege.

    That is because he believes satellites can enable Rwanda to capture the information without relying on third-party, which is time-consuming and expensive. “A good example during the rainy season, we normally have disasters such as landslides, floods to name a few,” he said. “With this technology in our hands, we will be able to predict using remote sensing data where and when or prevent them.”

    However, for the country to fully utilise the potential that comes with this technology it will need to re-skill its people.

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