The last few decades have transformed the space sector from a closed market into a global bazaar.
A recent article in the journal Science describes how African countries are coming together to expand their presence in the space market – and perhaps even corner some of it.
“We’re in this apparent era where the future belongs to everyone in space. When people say space is ‘democratized’, they’re only saying lip service, because they don’t really know what what that means. And so here is a player you never imagined, Africa, taking an interest in space,” said co-author Timiebi Aganaba, assistant professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society of Arizona State University.
Competitive markets and an ever-increasing dependence on satellite technologies have prompted more than 80 countries, including dozens in Africa, to invest in space. According to the authors, so far, 13 African countries have launched 44 satellites at a cost of $4.5 billion, and 125 more are in development.
Information is money, but it is also control — over its destiny and the means to meet social, economic, political and environmental needs.
Timiebi Aganaba is an assistant professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University.
“A lot of these countries don’t have data on their resources or what their borders look like, or their fish stocks or their oil deposits. And so, you might be planning a space program because you want to control your information,” , said Aganaba, who began her career as a lawyer with the Nigerian space agency 15 years ago and has since worked in the French, British and Canadian space sectors.
She says space travel also makes a country part of conversations about the future of humanity — and untapped markets.
“If Africa tried to do health, you know, every country in the world would destroy it. Because it’s like, ‘We already have health covered.’ Well, space is always anybody’s game,” she said.
Aganaba cited climate change, space mining and off-world colonization as examples.
But she added that African nations should take their time and develop their own capacities.
“There’s just a whole bunch of things we need to focus on if we really want to go space. It’s having a research culture; it’s about making sure that our best and brightest are rewarded, and people know what they’re doing. We need to do a lot more marketing and promotion of our capabilities,” she said.