Africa could soon get a new spaceport after Djibouti signed a partnership deal with Hong Kong Aerospace Technology to build a facility to launch satellites and rockets in the northern Obock region.
According to the preliminary deal, the Djibouti government will “provide the necessary land (minimum 10 sq km and with a term of not less than 35 years) and all the necessary assistance to build and operate the Djiboutian Spaceport.”
The $1 billion spaceport project will also involve the construction of a port facility, a power grid and a highway to ensure the reliable transportation of aerospace materials.
The deal’s signing was presided over by the president of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, and the project is set to be completed in the next five years.
The spaceport is a massive milestone for Africa, making it the first orbital spaceport on African soil.
The preliminary deal, signed in partnership with Touchroad International Holdings Group, clears the path for a formal contract signing, planned for March 2023.
A statement by Hong Kong Aerospace Technology notes, “the project would enable the Group to leverage on the resources of the Republic of Djibouti and the business connection of Touchroad in Africa, and allow the Group a smooth entrance into the aerospace business in the Republic of Djibouti.”
According to Victor Mwongera, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Kenyatta University, the projection will avail a launch base that will serve all Africans.
“It will push eastern Africa off the sleeping state as far as active development of space-based innovations are concerned,” he explained.
Trial and small-scale launches have been executed in Africa in the past, including the Italian-operated Broglio Space Centre (San Marco) in Malindi, Kenya and Algeria’s Reggane.
Mwongera sees the expansion of Africa’s space industry—with a number of African countries already building and operating their own microsatellites—as a growing trend.
“It has taken time but we needed time as a continent to be ready for this age. Now that we are ready, you are seeing the number is increasing and it is bound to increase further,” he said.
“In any technology, it is not possible for you to come in and be a leader instantly, but today in Africa, there are many young minds interested in the field, it’s all promising,” he added.
According to the 2022 annual sector report of research firm Space in Africa, the value of the African space and satellite industry has risen to more than $19.6 billion.
The charge is fuelled by 14 countries that have launched 52 satellites into space.
South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, and Nigeria have the highest number of satellites in space as of 2022, each having launched more than five satellites.
Mwongera explained that east African countries are well positioned to harbor more spaceports, due to their proximity to the equator.
“At the equator… there is minimal energy required,” he said.
To leverage Kenya’s potential, Viwanda Africa Group, in collaboration with Longshot Space Technology, has commissioned a team of students from Kenyatta and Nairobi universities to undertake a viability study on the ideal location to establish a spaceport in Kenya.
Led by Mwongera, the team identified Marsabit County to be ideal.
“We are currently in progress with a feasibility study of the location before we go into the next phase,” Mwongera said.