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Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

Archive for the ‘Space science and technology’ Category

Africa the Beautiful

Posted by Simon Adebola on November 30, 2011

Yes it is, just check it out yourself and do come visit. Africa is so beautifully diverse and enchantingly alluring it draws you- a free people, so real.

Suguta Valley, Kenya
Suguta Valley, Kenya.

Nyamuragira Volcano Democratic Republic of Congo
Nyamuragira Volcano Democratic Republic of Congo.

Great Dyke, Zimbabwe.
Great Dyke, Zimbabwe.

Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Great Bitter Lake, Suez canal, Egypt.
Great Bitter Lake, Suez canal, Egypt.

Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, Tanzania.
Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, Tanzania.

Namib Desert, Namibia
Namib Desert, Namibia

All images are from the NASA Earth Observatory.

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Keeping a Hand on the Pulse of Agriculture on the Continent

Posted by Simon Adebola on November 30, 2011

This post shows the use of satellite imagery to chronicle how natural and man-made events (floods, fires, and wasting droughts) contribute to the success and failure of the agricultural economy responsible for shaping and sustaining the livelihoods of millions of Africans. All images are from the NASA Earth Observatory.

Southern Africa flooding February 2011
Southern Africa flooding February 2011

Zambezi river flooding, Zambia and Namibia, February 2011
Zambezi river flooding, Zambia and Namibia, February 2011

Drought in East Africa, Image taken in January 2010,
Vegetation Anomaly (percent)
Drought in East Africa, Image taken in January 2010,

Fires in Okavango delta, Botswana, October 2010.
Fires in Okavango delta, Botswana, October 2010.

Flooded Oueme river, Benin, October 2010.
Flooded Oueme river, Benin, October 2010.

Revived and Flooded Boteti River, Botswana., September 2010.
Revived and Flooded Boteti River, Botswana., September 2010.

Bush burning, Angola and DRC, June 2010.
Bush burning, Angola and DRC, June 2010.

Flooded Pungue river, Mozambique, March 2010
Flooded Pungue river, Mozambique, March 2010

Flooding in North-central Tanzania, January 2010.
Flooding in North-central Tanzania, January 2010.

Agricultural fires across West Africa, December 2009.
Agricultural fires across West Africa, December 2009.

Fires in and around Mozambique, September 2009.
Fires in and around Mozambique, September 2009.

Flooding in West Africa, September 2009.
Flooding in West Africa, September 2009.

Posted in Africa, Drought, Earth observation, Flooding, Humanitarian emergencies, NASA, Satellites, Southern Africa, Space science and technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Investing in Space is Profitable for Africa

Posted by Simon Adebola on December 21, 2010

Any close follower of international space programs would have noticed the difference between British space sector activities and those of other countries like the United States, Russia, and China. The major difference has been that the British do not have a human space programme. This was abandoned some decades ago and efforts have been focused on space science, non human space exploration, and space engineering. Although the discussion is ongoing, including the discussion about the tardiness of the British in establishing a space agency, it is clear that the British government is not willing to commit billions in taxpayers’ money towards a human space exploration program. All well and good.

As mentioned earlier, the country has however distinguished itself in astronomy, the manufacture of space payloads and scientific instruments for straightforward and complex missions, and in the manufacture of small satellites at relatively low costs. This has seen the success of private bodies such as the Surrey Space Technologies Limited, Guildford headed by Sir Martin Sweeting and now part of the EADS Astrium NV. It has also witnessed the cross-fertilisation of skills between astronomers, particle physicists, and space engineers and scientists. The rise of Britain as a force in Earth Observation, and even geo-navigation, is also linked to this emphasis on non human space exploration. Then of course one has to mention the growth of space-based telecommunications including broadband internet. Britain exported space tourism to the United States, but further regulations may yet enable the growth of the space tourism industry in the UK. The space industry in the UK keeps growing, according to a recent study, and has proven resistant to economic recession over the last 3 years. The Oxford Economics Consultancy study puts the value at a turnover of 7.5 billion pounds with a 15% employment growth rate.

The success of the British model which up till recently was driven by the innovativeness and commitment of disparate entities from the academia, private sector, professional associations, and interest groups, demonstrates that the ‘bread debate’ is a hapless distraction that has limited growth in the space sector in many developing countries. The ‘bread debate’ suggests that investment in space activities may not be worthwhile if there are other challenges such as poverty, health, and basic infrastructure. There is no doubt, however, that any venture that grows the economy, creates jobs, and drives innovation would ultimately bear on these stated challenges of poverty, health, infrastructure etc. This shows why investment in space activities rather than limit growth in the countries that choose it, has actually boosted economic growth, and generated spin-offs that are enhancing livelihoods. The UK has proven that investment in space need not be solely capital-intensive ventures like human space flight, but that there are many other aspects that hold huge promise for economic prosperity. There is a need for developing countries to change their attitudes and catch up on lost developments. The world is not waiting.

There has been much talk about an African Space Agency, externally driven by ‘Sinophobia’ and European interests. The game is going to be long-drawn. There is however something to be learned from the example of the UK Space Agency. It has commissioned this study that has benchmarked the terrain and adjudged the economic value and potential for growth of the space sector in the UK. It has also clearly laid out a 20 year vision and strategy for growth as shown here. This is intended to be profitable, high tech, and environmentally friendly. It is by no means an inferiority complex-driven pursuit of fleeting national prestige, or an excuse for corrupt governments to enrich themselves, or a basis to trash out lame issues about geographical balance in international representations. Clarity, openness, transparency, foresight, and the common good should be some of the values that should drive a visionary policy that would pave the way for a successful African space program.

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Remote Sensing and Desertification

Posted by Simon Adebola on December 21, 2010

“Satellite imaging technology has been recognized as playing an important role in achieving this objective by using these methods for monitoring the areas most at risk to support land and water management decisions.

Earth observation (EO) satellite technologies allow land degradation processes to be monitored over time. Monitoring desertification, land degradation and droughts requires continuous evaluation, some of which can be retrieved with earth observation technologies and state-of-the-art geo-spatial applications.

High-spectral resolution satellite imagery can dramatically increase the accuracy of dryland monitoring. Hyperspectral imagery incorporated with field and laboratory data for analysis can be used to derive more quantitative and specific soil properties directly linked to soil degradation status, such as soil chemical properties, organic matter, mineralogical content, infiltration capacity, aggregation capacity, and runoff coefficient.

Combining satellite image data with weather data, numeric models and geographical information systems (GIS) are used to create standardized geo-information products.”

Full article here

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African Space Round-Up

Posted by Simon Adebola on November 2, 2010

The African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE) held its 8th International meeting last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The week long event held from the 25-29 October 2010. It explored themes around the applications of Earth Observation for Africa’s development agenda. More info here

The Group on Earth Observation would commence its seventh plenary session immediately followed by its ministerial summit, this week in Beijing, China. The events would hold respectively on the 3rd-4th and on the 5th of November 2010. Key issues about the GEO tasks and workplan would be discussed among others. GEO membership is currently made up of 84 member states and the European Commission. There are 21 African member states with Gabon being the most recent addition. The plenary and summit programme is available here

NASA sends terrabytes of data to African environmental scientists. Read more here

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GRACE abounds!

Posted by Simon Adebola on July 1, 2010

The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are to continue their collaboration on the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission on till 2015. Full story here

Data from NASA's GRACE satellites helps gauge groundwater fluctuations in northwestern India and elsewhere. (National Geographic Society Website)

Image courtesy Trent Schindler and Matt Rodell, NASA

Results from this mission have proven invaluable in tracking the amount of underground water, ice, and global sea levels. This is of key essence in preparing for hazards related to water shortages, rising sea levels, and ocean currents. It is also important that scienctists and researchers on the African continent take advantage of such data to develop intelligent systems that would help guide the development of climate adaptation, disaster preparedness, and mitigation efforts. The role of international cooperation, capacity building, and financial support is very crucial here. Efforts should also be made to engage communities proactively, and empower them to cope with these foreseeable challenges.

More on GRACE here

Posted in Africa, Climate change, Disaster management, Drought, Earth observation, Global Security, India, NASA, Satellites, Science, Space science and technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Launching the ‘African Heritage From Space’ Series: Namib Desert (AHFSS 1)

Posted by Simon Adebola on February 18, 2010

Africa is blessed with a rich social, moral and cultural heritage, there is no doubt about that. The land is also rich in bountiful stores of natural resources. It’s people however are its greatest assets and these have made their mark not only on the continent but indeed all over the globe and even in space exploration. That is Africa.

Of particular significance though, is the uniqueness and beauty of Africa’s geophysical structure. It’s breathtaking landscapes, lush greenery, magnificent forests, cascading waterfalls, gorgeous hills and mountains, “proud ancestral savannas”, and seering yet awestriking deserts, are some of the features that have made Africa the prime allure of explorers, the daring and adventurous for centuries.

The Group on Earth Observation (GEO) lists ecosystems and biodiversity as two of its themes and societal benefit areas. Space technologies can play a major role in supporting efforts at conserving the state of our environment. These efforts thus need to be augmented through the use of earth observation and other space capabilities in environmental monitoring and conservation. There is an increasing role to be played by the integration of technologies in development aims because they offer boundless opportunities to optimize resources and increase efficiency.

The ‘African Heritage from Space Series’ is being launched to connect these potentials of space technology to the God-given magnificence of Africa’s ecosystems and entire landscape. This will showcase the varied scenes of beauty that exist in different parts of the continent as seen through the eyes of space-borne instruments. Furthermore, like apples of gold in settings of silver, each image would be set within the context of what is and what could be.

The first image in this series is of the Namibian Desert and it was taken by an astronaut on Expedition 22 on the International Space Station (ISS). It is made available through the NASA Earth Observatory.

Tsauchab River and Sossus Vlei Lakebed, Namibia (NASA)

The Namibian desert extends for about 81,000 sq. km. and it is from this Namib (Nama for vast) desert that the country of Namibia gets its name. The driest desert in Africa and the oldest in the world, this richest of sources for diamonds captivates endlessly with its awestriking dunes that remind one of the Martian landscape. It has a unique blend of animal and plant varieties that make up its ecosystem. One of the most popular of these is the Welwitschia mirabilis with its single pair of leaves, existing in an order of its own. See a video of the desert and its enchanting features below.

The desert has long inspired paintings, photographs, poems, historical writings and other works of art. It has also had its fair share of scientific study. The sand dunes pictured in this image are the tallest in the world, reaching up to a height of 300 metres above river bottom. The desert however is one of the world’s driest and the future of its species, though rugged, is a concern for conservationists and environmental biologists. It is also a location for mining ventures which together with farming, if not carefully monitored, could further pose a challenge to its ecostability. It is a coastal desert that is gradually encroaching westward to reclaim land from the ocean.

You can explore the area further here

Posted in Africa, Development, Drought, Earth observation, Education, NASA, Satellites, Science, Southern Africa, Space, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Africa, Solar Power and Space Technologies 2

Posted by Simon Adebola on February 11, 2010

In the quest for renewable energy solutions that could serve to meet the world’s energy needs in a cost-effective way, there are many options that are being proposed. Some of these options are quite interesting, a number are ingenious and laughable, and yet some border on the fringe of the bizarre, and on being outright outrageous.

One particular example of alternative energy solutions that holds huge potential for the many parts of Africa with many sunny days in a year is the PS 10 in Sanlucar le Mayor, 25km west of Seville, Spain. It is the world’s first commercial tower technology solar thermoelectric power plant. See the video below.

The search for appropriate locations to derive maiximum yield from solar energy has led some to consider the possibility of moving beyond the earth’s surface, above it’s immdiate atmosphere, and into the vastness of space to tap this abundant resource. The case for Space-Based Solar Power(SPSP) or Space Solar Power (SSP), as it is called, is made by those who seek to overcome the huge loss of solar energy that occurs as radiation from the sun loses it’s value as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere to reach its surface where most solar panels exist. Moreso, unlike solar panels on earth which are subject to meteorological and day/night changes, a satellite in space bearing a solar panel can have uninterrupted reception of solar energy for conversion to electricity and onward transmission to the Earth’s surface. This idea has been a subject of intensive research by a number of developed nations who predict drastic energy shortages and seek to augment current energy supply means with power gathered from space. This energy can then be beamed back to earth solving the power generation and transmission questions by systematically splitting transmission into sending (from space) and receiving (on ground) components. They can then use existing distribution networks.

Does this approach hold any special benefit for Africa? Are there equally efficient options on the continent? Are current and potential energy shortages faced by the continent due to a dearth of energy sources or lack of utilization of existing energy sources? Does Africa have the potential of supplying power to other continents? Whose responsibility is it to make Africa energy self-sufficient and even commercially capable in supplying other states?

If in spite of the abundance of solar energy sources in Africa, people prefer to invest in going all the way to space, a technology solution that is probably 5 decades away from being deployable on a commercially feasible scale, then that should point to the fact that Africa in many ways has the primary responsibility to invest in and develop its own viable energy sources. This may be their solution to generating in Africa and transmitting to Europe, Asia or America. The problem with this option is that the risk of failure is high compared to the incurred investment especially since the technologies have been untested on the scale that it would take to make economic sense. However their efforts in conceptualising and developing new technologies to adapt to future change is commendable, and that should be emulated across Africa. Africa needs a breed of forward-looking engineers, entrepreneurs and social policy makers to help it cope with the needs of the present and the challenges of its future. The lesson there is probably not that some are willing to try something crazy rather than come to invest in Africa, but that we had better get the message that the rest of the world will not wait for Africa to solve its own problems.

Posted in Africa, Development, Education, Innovation, Satellites, Science, Southern Africa, Space, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Africa, Solar Power and Space Technologies 1

Posted by Simon Adebola on February 11, 2010

The provision of alternative energy sources to drive the machines of development in Africa, and indeed globally, is a major issue. This is further heightened by the scientific and economic possibilities that surround the commercial deployment of new technologies that use renewable energy sources as alternatives to coal and petroleum. Governments, research institutions, and private entities alike have all embarked on quests to discover, develop, and deploy efficient and renewable energy solutions.

Darling Wind Farm, South Africa. (Source: BBC News Africa)

The growth of carbon-efficient technologies has helped to fuse considerations such as cost-effectiveness and environmental impact into the primary concern of technical feasibility. Some of the options being explored include wind, hydroelectric energy, biomass, and solar energy.

In spite of its having a rich abundance of each of these energy sources, Africa still reels under the lack of energy to drive development and economic growth. This is largely because technological and organisational know-how is needed to exploit these options and most parts of the continent still fall behind in this aspect.

Africa stands at a particular advantage with respect to solar energy. The development and commercial exploitation of this resource should have long been a priority of many African governments. The space programme has long relied on solar energy to drive its exploratory missions.

SMART-1, ESA’s technology demonstration satellite to the moon, used highly efficient solar power solutions to accomplish new technological feats. See a video of SMART-1.

There are many lessons to be learned here by countries seeking to profit from the utilisation of solar energy. The hardening of spacecraft components to help them cope with the harsh extremes of the space environment can be adapted to improve the effiency of solar energy hardware deployed in desert-like conditions. Deserts are notorious for their very hot days and extremely cold nights. Hardening helps technologies deployed in harsh environments to stay efficient and deliver for much longer. If man can successfully deploy structures like the International Space Station’s solar array wings to provide consistent power supply for man’s presence in space, then nothing stops Africans from repeating something that does not come near that as a technological feat.

International Space Station showing solar arrays (Source: NASA)

Profitable exploitation of solar power is possible and needed in Africa. The technologies are available, what is needed is the political will and economic sense to drive its successful implementation. Some people are already making efforts in this direction.

A graduate of the International Space University, Ayodele Faiyetole, believes in the potential and impact of solar power. He is overcoming the resistance of his environment to deliver voltage and light to communities hitherto enshrouded in darkness and ignorance of the possibilities that the sunlight around them can bring. He recently received the Todd B. Hawley Space Visionary Award for his achievements. Read more about him here

Solar panels and solar energy options have advanced in the last few decades and the field is still growing. This is a key area where Africa can make its mark and pull its people out of darkness to light.

Posted in Africa, Development, Innovation, NASA, Satellites, Science, Southern Africa, Space, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

African Resource Management Satellite (ARMC) Constellation

Posted by Simon Adebola on December 21, 2009

The African Resource Management Constellation (ARMC), a collaboration currently involving Nigeria, South Africa Kenya, and Algeria. Initially conceived around 2004, when it was named the African Resource and Environmental Management Satellite Constellation, the initiative was meant to develop a constellation of satellites to provide real time, unrestricted and affordable access to satellite data to support effective environmental and resource management in Africa. Three meetings held in May 2005 in Algeria, September 2005 in Stellenbosch, RSA, and November 2005 in Abuja, Nigeria, demonstrated the commitment and momentum at the early stages of the project. During this period, a steering committee was formed and a plan of action developed to move the process forward. Other workshops held in Algeria in 2006, Pretoria, RSA in 2007 and in Kenya in 2008. These with the international awareness generated by the initiative, all helped to lay a good foundation for its success. The space agreement on the African Resources Management Satellite Constellation (ARMC), which is a Memorandum of Understanding between the partners, was signed by the governments of the four countries on the 7th of December 2009 during the Third African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development that held in Algiers, Algeria.

Signing of the ARMC Space Agreement, 7th December 2009 in Algiers, Algeria (Source: Algerian Space Agency)

As proposed, the constellation would help provide easy access to satellite data for end users in the following fields: disaster management, food security, public health, infrastructure, land use, and water resource management. It would thus support activities such as urban development, land use monitoring, and mapping for the surveillance of climate change effects. A constellation design was adopted that would have each satellite equipped with a 2.5m resolution panchromatic imager and a 5m resolution multispectral imager in 6 multispectral bands. Data from these identical satellites would be gotten through an integrated ground station. From the ground station, efforts would be made to ensure that the satellite data reach the end users all over the continent, as close to real time as possible.The program would also include capacity building initiatives and the development of low-cost multi-source ground receiving stations to aid the less privileged countries who can gain access through these stations to remote sensing and meteorological satellite data.

Algeria launched its first satellite, Alsat 1 in 2002 as part of the UK-led Disaster Management Constellation (DMC) programme. Nigeria launched its own first satellite in 2003 under the DMC programme. Both satellites were constructed by the Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, Guildford, United Kingdom. Nigeria, with Chinese support, also launched, the now failed, Nigcomsat-1 in May 2007. South Africa launched Africa’s first satellite (SunSat 1) built by the University of Stellenbosch, in February 1999. This last September it launched its second satellite, the Sumbandila Sat, aboard a Russian rocket. Although, Kenya inherited offshore launch facilities (San Marco launch platform) from the Italian space programme, it has no satellite of its own.

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