Rwanda Space Agency lays out plans to nurture development

Space technology, with its implications on science, economy, and well-being of citizens, is mostly chosen as one of the priority areas for technological development by developing countries.

Much as it is generally agreed that outer space should be used for the benefit of people, only a fraction of the countries has the necessary technological base for accessing space.

Space technology, with its implications on science, economy, and well-being of citizens, is mostly chosen as one of the priority areas for technological development by developing countries.

Rwanda, like other developing countries, recently approved the establishment of the Rwanda Space Agency (RSA) as the country seeks to enhance and monitor service delivery in specific sectors using skills in the multi-billion dollar industry.

This, officials at RSA say has started paying off, especially after they supported other government agencies to monitor the effects of the Mt Nyiragongo eruption and the aftermath earthquakes using satellite imageries in collaboration with international partners.

More recently, however, there has been an over-capacity in the global space industry and there are doubts on the necessity of additional capacity establishment by developing countries.

The New Times’ Edwin Ashimwe spoke to the agency’s Chief Executive Officer Col. Francis Ngabo, on a wide range of insights including specific missions, valuable enterprises as well as future major developments.

Excerpts:

A few months after it was launched, what are the goals and focus of RSA?

RSA was established to develop Rwanda’s space sector towards socio-economic development.

For RSA to achieve this mission, there was a need to first understand the needs of stakeholders in terms of space-related services.

To this end, RSA approached different institutions to understand how space services can contribute to enhance and monitor service delivery in specific sectors.

It is based on this that RSA initiated few projects using geospatial data and satellite imageries that are received from partner satellite operators.

With the received data, RSA will use algorithms and machine learning processes to extract useful information which can be applied in key sectors for the country such as Agriculture, Mining, and Disaster Management, among others.

The fact that so many countries seem to want a space program implies an inherent value to exploring space. But how does this benefit Rwanda?

Revenues from the space industries globally amount to almost USD 400 billion. More than half of these revenues are coming from services and applications derived from the downstream segment of the satellite services.

With the right strategy and policy in place, there is a possibility for Rwanda to tap into the potential of the space sector, especially from its downstream services.

Moreover, traditionally space was reserved to a handful of Nations who developed their space program mainly for strategic and defence reasons.

In addition to traditional applications such as broadband connectivity, broadcasting, it is possible today to use satellite imagery for estimating crops yield, predicting future yield, and preventing crops diseases;

We can also monitor illegal mining and assess its impact on the environment; predict disaster and mitigate its impact; you can use space technology for land management, urban planning, and several other applications.

Most recently, RSA supported other government agencies to monitor the effects of the Mt Nyiragongo eruption and the aftermath of earthquakes using satellite imageries in collaboration with international partners.

There was a plan to strategically invest in training Rwandans in different space-related technologies. How has this plan fared considering the effects of Covid-19? How many Rwandans have so far been trained?

One of the main pillars for developing the Rwanda space sector is capacity building. Both short and long-term plans are being considered for training Rwandans in space science and technology ranging from hands-on skills workshops to formal graduate education programs with local and international Universities.

RSA is also exploring the possibility of establishing a center of excellence to focus on research and specific space projects. However, as you might expect, Covid-19 slowed down the progress but we were able to organize some online training in collaboration with various partners.

Nearly two years ago, some Rwandan engineers trained alongside their Japanese counterparts launched an inaugural satellite into space. Have we seen any more devices sent into space, or are there any work in progress to ensure the vice?

The launch of Rwasat-1 to space was a big milestone in Rwanda’s space journey. It was an opportunity for Rwandan engineers to participate in the mission design, assembly and integration of the satellite.

The leadership of our country then deemed the creation of a space agency as the next logical step to ensure Rwanda’s sustainable presence in space.

We believe that with the current development of compact satellites and reusable launching vehicles, there is an increasing opportunity for developing countries like Rwanda to send satellites in space.

In what areas/ways does Rwanda see space as a valuable enterprise?

We see space services as an enabler to our economy from which numerous sectors of our country can benefit.

Initially we are focusing on using data received from satellites from partners and other international institutions to come up with solutions that will be used in the agriculture sector, mining, urbanisation and disaster management.

There are many other sectors that can benefit from space services, and our plan is to work with other government stakeholders to develop space services that can be used to improve service delivery and monitoring.

There are many use cases around the world where space services were used to improve sectors like transport, public health service, environment etc.

Our plan is to ensure that space services plays its role as an enabler for socio-economic development in the country.

In addition, we know that the space industry globally generates close to $400 billion revenue per year.

In RSA, we are working to put in place strategies and a conducive environment to attract investment for some of the global space value chain in Rwanda.

Experts say that one of the keys to succeeding in this new effort will be international partnerships. Have we secured any?

By virtue of its nature, space is international. That is why international partnership is one of the pillars for the development of the space sector, and every international partnership that is built brings in a share of strengths and experience.

Since its creation, RSA has been approached and has also approached space agencies from many countries seeking to establish partnerships.

In addition to the bilateral partnership, Rwanda is a member of intergovernmental organizations like Digital Earth Africa that facilitates in the provision of geospatial data and satellite imageries.

Finally, what major development or any new developments Rwandans should expect from the agency?

RSA is working on building a National Geospatial data Hub that will aggregate geospatial data with some of the existing data to provide information that could be used to monitor how we are standing in the implementation of key policies at the national and international levels.

page illustration