Uganda venturing into space technology could see the country launch its first satellites in 2022 joining the growing list of African countries like; Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Sudan to have launched satellites. Launching the satellite in 2022 was first confirmed by Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation at the 2019 World Science Day which was held at Makerere University.
The idea to venture into satellite technology began after President Museveni pushed for space technology research with Russia after a meeting with delegates from the Russian-Uganda Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Science, and Technical Cooperation in 2019.
The idea is coming into life gradually after a major step forward with the Cabinet approving funding to build a ground space station. According to some online sources, the station is located at the Mpoma Facility which will serve as the operations and communications center for satellites launched by the government. The station is reported to already have two antennas that are associated with Intelsat’s the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean satellites.
Tumwesigye says ‘Mpoma Facility was chosen because it already had some infrastructure that the country has been using for international telecommunication satellites’. Therefore this would minimize the costs of having to develop a new structure while on the other hand, the government is committing about USD$2 million to improve the infrastructure.
Former Minister for ICT and National Guidance, now Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Hon. Judith Nabakooba said the country launching the satellite they will be joining the growing list of already African countries to have launched satellites.
In her remarks, Nabakooba said, “The satellite program will primarily address national security concerns and we won’t be gambling with technology. We are sure that our defense and security will improve through improved capabilities for cross-border movement monitoring and surveillance for the country.”
Nabakooba also stressed the possibility of increased private sector investment in space science, technology, research, and innovation, including foreign direct investment and collaborations.
“Space science is new in Uganda, and we will seek to work with foreign countries like Russia, Japan, Israel, among others, that implemented space science before so that we can exchange knowledge and use their research as a benchmark to improve on ours.”
Mr. Chris Nsamba, Founder and CEO of the African Space Research Program, said if the satellite is launched, it will help improve weather forecasts used by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority.
“With the change in climate, sometimes the unpredictable weather has been delaying some flights from Entebbe International Airport. But when the satellite is launched, the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority will have more accurate weather forecasts to allow flights to take off and land at the scheduled time,” Nsamba explained.
With the satellite launch in place, the government is also working on establishing an education network around space technology. This will see Ugandan space engineers trained in Uganda other than sending them to other countries for training. Makerere University recently started a teaching program in space technology.
President Museveni has emphasized the educational benefits of a space program —pointing to the new space technology program at Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art, and Technology.
“I have asked my officials to work closely with the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland regarding the space program. This will create an opportunity for having a space camp in Uganda,” Museveni said during his concluded 2021 State of the Union speech.
The Ministry of ICT has said the station will help in developing Uganda’s space capabilities in a well-coordinated and harmonized manner —projecting benefits such as;
- Increased evidence-based technology information for planning and decision-making.
- Improved Space Science and Technology infrastructure to support research for the industrial development of the country.
- Improved Defence and Security through improved capabilities for cross-border movement monitoring and surveillance.
- Increased Private Sector investment in space science, technology, research, and innovation.
- Increase in Public servants (Human Resources) to facilitate the development of space technology in Uganda.
There was no exact timeframe for the launch but all we know it will be in 2022 if all goes as planned.
Reporter’s Note: Article written with inputs from AGU PUBLICATIONS.