As humanity explores new frontiers in space, the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon serves as a reflection of where we have come from, and where we are to go next. What does it mean for the estimated $7 billion space industry in Africa?
July 20, 1969, will always be remembered as the year man made earth-shaking history.
It was one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Apollo 11 became the first aircraft to land safely on the moon.
In Africa, just a year after this historic moment, Kenya launched its first satellite named Uhuru, meaning ‘freedom’ in Swahili.
It was Africa’s giant leap. It was sponsored by NASA and was the first earth-orbiting mission dedicated to celestial X-ray astronomy.
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It is speculated that in 1970 and 1973, Kenya was given two rocks collected from the Apollo 11 and 17 lunar missions. Since then, more African nations have joined the space race.
“The space industry is worth $400 billion and in Africa, the space industry is worth up to $7 billion,” Nigerian space enthusiast and entrepreneur, Oniosun Temidayo, says.
He grew up in Oyo State in the southwest of Nigeria, thousands of kilometers away from where the Apollo mission took place, yet he is fueled with passion for the space industry.
Temidayo is the founder of Space in Africa, a platform that covers business, technology, discoveries, events and political news on the African space and satellite industry.
As per his research with Space in Africa, it is expected that by 2024, at least 15 African countries would have launched at least one satellite into space.
These include Algeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan and Tunisia. Senegal has set a two-year target to launch its first nanosatellite.
“The total projected number of satellites by African countries is rising from 35 to 64 within the same period; a 83 percent increase in the number of satellites in the region,” Temidayo says.
According to the African Space Industry Annual Report 2019: “The aggregate GDP of the continent has doubled in the last 10 years, to over $2.2 trillion. The African space market is now worth over $7 billion annually, and we project that is likely to grow over 40% in the next five years to exceed $10 billion by 2024.”
There are many commercial ventures aligned to investing in the space industry in Africa.
The report states that over 8,500 people are employed in the African space industry.
“African engineers built 14 of the 35 satellites, including those they built in Africa and others using facilities outside of Africa,” the report said, implementing the continental space policy under the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063.
Egypt was approved as host country for the headquarters of the new African Space Agency passed by the AU.
One of the agency’s objectives is strengthening “space missions on the continent in order to ensure optimal access to space-derived data, information, services and products”.
Africa’s plans have surely sky-rocketed in this regard.
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It has been 17 years since South African-born tech entrepreneur, Mark Shuttleworth, became the first African in space.
Called the ‘Afronaut’, at 28, he became the second-ever space tourist flying to the International Space Station as a member of the Soyuz TM-34.
He paid about $20 million to spend eight days there; a dream only a few could afford then – and even now.
Today, Temidayo aspires to reach for the stars like Shuttleworth did.
But until then, he continues to build a body of work on the African space economy.
50 years of the lunar landing
Last month, Temidayo and his team celebrated the 50th anniversary of Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the Moon.
To celebrate, his team featured 10 of the brightest young professionals under the age of 30 who are doing incredible work in the African space industry, calling them ‘The Future of the African Space Industry’.
“These are 10 young professionals below the age of 30. Their work cuts across space engineering, geospatial technologies, space law and business development. They are already influencing the growth of the industry,” he says.
“The exciting thing about this is that, they are mostly women,” Temidayo reveals.
Thousands of kilometers away, another man was also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo mission – Aldrin, the man who was on the moon with Armstrong, and who turned 89 this year.
“Ten, nine, ignition sequence start, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero, all engines running. We have a lift off, lift off on Apollo 11,” were the immortal words on the space intercom during Apollo 11’s launch.
On the day, 530 million TV viewers watched the astronauts take their first steps on the moon.
“The moon landing was not just a US achievement. It was a global achievement,” Temidayo says.
Reflecting on the mission, Aldrin posted a tweet with an image of him and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, including mission commander Armstrong, examining a lunar sample brought back from the moon.
As part of the celebrations, Buzz Aldrin Ventures had a party planned; the Official Apollo XI 50th Anniversary Gala at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s Air Force One Pavilion in Simi Valley with himself to honor the mission, team and crew that made history in 1969.
For his journey to space, it is reported that Aldrin carried wine, bread, and a chalice for communion while Armstrong carried a piece of the wooden propeller of the Wright Flyer (the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft built by the Wright brothers).
“When we made it to the moon, it was uncharted territory – literally! Our 21-day quarantine was a necessary precaution at the time… we didn’t know if there were any microorganisms on the moon,” Aldrin said in a Twitter post.
Meanwhile, NASA rolled out numerous activities for anyone to get involved in the 50th anniversary celebrations.
NASA says it is working to establish a permanent human presence on the moon within the next decade to uncover new scientific discoveries and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.
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