The space age has reached Africa. Recently, the world's top scientists met at the annual conference of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) held for the first time in Africa. It also marked the 50th anniversary of human space flight.
During the conference held in Cape Town, South Africa, Africa was one of the main topics of discussion. Various African countries have jump started their space programs. Nigeria's space program hit a recent milestone with the launch of two satellites--NigeriaSat 2 and NigeriaSat X--used for forestry, mapping, disaster-monitoring and security applications. In 2009, South Africa launched an environmental observation satellite called SumbandilaSat, and last year the country formed its own space agency. Additionally, Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia all have created space initiatives.
"There was an investment in the past in space activities and large assets have been created in SA in space sciences and in particular in astronomy. Space science is a cradle of innovation and creativity and a source of high level technologies," notes Philippe Willekens, executive director of the IAF.
Because of these developments on the continent, Willekens says it was a prime time to hold the conference in South Africa. "The moment is excellent as the newly created South African space agency (SANSA)...(we) got this unique chance to exchange views with - and be exposed to - the international community at a time when South Africa is elaborating on its long term space plan," he says. "This way, Dr. Sandile Malinga, CEO of the South African National Space Agency (and in particular, the DTI commission, chaired by Dr. Peter Martinez, head of the Space Science and Technology Division of the South African Astronomical Observatory) can better define these plans in coherence with the international space dynamics and context."
During the conference, the heads of the world's major space agencies met for the five-day conference where they reviewed the major changes under way in space agencies around the world. "In Africa, there are two groups that are emerging--one composed of South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria and more recently Kenya, interested in jointly developing systems and sharing data from them (example, the African Resource Management Constellation)," explains Willekens. "The other group, composed of nations with smaller space programs, is focused on the utilization of space data for remote sensing applications (agriculture, urban management, water food, natural resource and energy management, etc.), data for geo-localization now using navigation satellite data (GPS) and telecommunications."
The conference also took note of NASA making the last flight of the U.S. space shuttle fleet while unveiling its new Space Launch System. China also launched Tiangong-1, an experimental module that marks a first step toward building a space station.