In an effort to promote astronomy, Ethiopia has begun operating the first space observatory in East Africa.

Unveiled on Friday,  this is the first phase of a space exploration programme, which includes East Africa’s largest observatory designed to promote astronomy research in the region.

“The optical astronomical telescope is mainly intended for astronomy and astrophysics observation research,” said observatory director Solomon Belay.

The observatory, which will formally be opened on Saturday, boasts two telescopes, each one metre (over three feet) wide, to see “extra planets, different types of stars, the Milky Way, and deep galaxies,” Solomon added.

It is a 3.4 million dollar (2.5 million euro) observatory, run by the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) and is funded by Ethiopian-Saudi business tycoon Mohammed Alamoudi.

The observatory is 3,200 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level and sits in the lush Entoto mountains on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, which is an ideal location because of its minimal cloud cover, moderate winds and low humidity, experts said.

ESSS was established in 2004 and has gained credibility in the past decade with astronomy courses introduced at universities and winning increased political support. The Ethiopian government is set to launch a space policy in coming years.

The country will also launch its first satellite in the next three years, ESSS said, to study meteorology and boost telecommunications.