- Kenya partnered with SpaceX to launch its first operational satellite
- Taifa-1 is the country’s second launched satellite but the first was a test run
- Kenya spent over half a million US dollars on the development and launch of Taifa-1
- Italian-owned satellites were launched from Kenya from the 60’s to 80’s
Just today, Kenya launched its first operational earth observation satellite onboard a SpaceX rocket from the US. The rocket launch was shown in a live stream from SpaceX’s YouTube channel, which has since garnered over 200,000 views.
The Taifa-1 nanosatellite, which was developed by 9 Kenyan engineers, is designed for the collection of agricultural and environmental data. The Kenyan government plans on using this data to mitigate natural disasters such as floods, droughts and wildfires, and to tackle food insecurity.
SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket took off at 6:48 AM GMT from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, carrying the Taifa-1 satellite and 50 other spacecraft from several countries.
The multi-payload launch, which was postponed three times due to bad weather, was part of SpaceX’s seventh dedicated small-sat rideshare mission dubbed “Transporter-7”.
The Elon Musk-owned aerospace company confirmed the separation of the Kenyan satellite from the rocket about an hour after the rocket launch.
The Kenya Space Agency (KSA), run by the Kenyan government, has invested a significant amount into the development of the satellite and its launch.
SpaceX’s website shows that it costs at least $275,000 (Ksh36.9 million) for interested participants to book a slot on the company’s rideshare missions which run multiple times a year.
Additionally, Taifa-1 satellite was reportedly developed with the help of Bulgarian aerospace manufacturer Endurosat at the cost of Ksh50 million ($372,000) over two years.
However, the investment is expected to bring even more significant returns for the safeguarding and development of the East African country.
Yesterday, KSA’s deputy director of Navigation and Positioning Captain Alloyce Were spoke to Reuters about how the satellite would enable them to monitor the challenges brought about by climate change, as well as forest changes and urbanisation changes.
Taifa-1 Sat is equipped with an optical camera that takes pictures in 5 multispectral bands and a panchromatic band, enabling it to function both within and beyond the visible light spectrum.
The satellite assembly also comprises mass storage systems that enable the pictures to be stored on-board temporarily before they can be accessed and downloaded from the ground station.
It is the first of an intended constellation of small earth observation satellites KSA is working on, the rest of which are expected to be of higher capability.
“Taifa” is a Swahili word that means “nation” and the “1” signifies the coming of subsequent satellites aimed at tackling national issues.
Taifa-1 will operate for 5 years and then decay over 20 years as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns out.
KSA is currently working on setting up a ground receiver station which it plans to finish and commission in June and July, respectively.
Kenya and Africa in Space
Kenya’s foray into space started as far back as 1964, when the country collaborated with Italy to establish a satellite launching and tracking base in Malindi, a seaside town and prime tourist destination in Kenya.
Between 1967 and 1989, over 20 sounding—also called research—rockets and 9 rockets were launched from the Luigi Broglio Space Centre in Malindi.
In 1967, the San Marco 2 satellite was launched from the space centre. Although the satellite was launched by an Italian crew, the feat still had a strong implication for Kenya as it made it the first African country to launch a satellite into space.
The centre is no longer a launch base, but still serves as a ground station for receiving satellite data, telemetry and tracking launches.
Decades later, Kenya rekindled its space sector on its own oars with the establishment of the National Space Secretariat in 2009—which later became KSA in 2017.
In 2018, the country deployed its first locally owned satellite, a nanosatellite called 1KUNS-PF, into orbit from NASA’s International Space Station (ISS).
The CubeSat was financially backed by a United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) grant which was won by the University of Nairobi 2 years prior.
Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency was also heavily involved in the project.
However, Taifa-1 will be the country’s first operational satellite as 1KUNS-PF was said to be a “technology demonstrator” meant to inspire confidence in local engineers and help them gain basic understanding of the workings of a satellite.
While Kenya is only just picking up in the continent’s race to space, countries like Egypt and South Africa have gone much farther ahead.
Earlier this year, Space X also partnered with South Africa to launch South-African-made EOS SAT-1 microsatellite, which was originally meant to be launched last December
The agri-focused satellite, the first of a constellation of 7, finally made it to space on 3rd January and is expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for Africa’s southernmost country.
South Africa has launched 9 satellites in total, making it the second African country with the most launched satellites, behind Egypt which launched its 11th satellite Horus-2 in March.
The North African country is now working towards launching MisrSat-2 and NexSat-1 satellites for remote sensing and scientific research.
Other African countries which have made successful forays into space with satellite launches are Algeria, Nigeria, Morocco, Ghana, Sudan, Ethiopia, Angola, Kenya, Rwanda and Mauritius.
The satellites mostly function in areas of telecommunication, surveillance and earth observation.
Sources: Reuters, The Star