Ethiopia is the latest nation in Africa to look skyward and declare its ambitions in space.
The country’s ministry of science and technology announced that it will launch a satellite into orbit in three to five years to better develop its weather-monitoring capabilities. This follows the 2015 launch of a privately-funded, multi-million dollar astronomical observatory in the Entoto hills overlooking Addis Ababa—the only one of its kind in the region.
The bigger picture is a realization among African countries of the value space technology holds for economic development, job creation—and military aspirations. Many African nations lack the human expertise or capital to fund these projects. But for those that do, information gleaned from satellites has the potential to improve agriculture, guard tropical forests from deforestation, forestall climate change, improve disaster planning, and provide internet to rural communities. These investments can also offset the long-term costs of purchasing and maintaining satellites from foreign governments.
African nations have tried to reach for the skies one way or another for decades. In 1964, a Zambian school teacher named Edward Mukuka Nkoloso launched the continent’s first space program. Nkoloso’s failed effort included placing his cadets in steel oil drums and rolling them down a hill to simulate the weightless conditions of the moon.
These advanced space technologies could be hugely helpful in providing African scientists with data to solve everyday problems.