China-Africa Cooperation In The Space Sector Exemplifies Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

Exports of Chinese satellites, joint construction of space infrastructure, and joint research and development of satellites … The recent years have seen substantial growth in China-Africa cooperation in the space sector, which is bringing tangible benefits to both sides. 

Since space utilisation is a highly technology- and capital-intensive industry, partnerships with capable players like China are essential for Africa to develop its space capabilities. Egypt, one of the most active countries in Africa in the sector, stands as a good example of how cooperation in the space sector can be beneficial in multifarious ways. 

Bordering the Mediterranean and the Red Sea with half of its landscape being desert and the other half seawater, the country is in urgent need to enhance its capabilities in surveying its resources and monitoring and assessing environmental disasters across its unique landscape. On 4 December 2023, China sent into orbit Egypt’s MISRSAT-2, a remote-sensing satellite co-developed by Chinese and Egyptian technicians, which will address these and other needs.  

Through training provided by the Chinese side and participation in the design, development, and testing of satellites, the partnership has also contributed to cultivating local talents for Egypt’s space industry. China has also helped Egypt to develop and build a satellite assembly, integration and testing centre, which will enhance Egypt’s ability to develop satellites independently. The centre is open to other African countries, providing them with access to state-of-the-art satellite technology and expertise that might otherwise have been unavailable or difficult to access, according the Egyptian Space Agency. 

According to a report by the United States Institute of Peace, as of October 2021, 23 of Africa’s 54 countries have bilateral space partnerships with China, involving programmes such as Earth observation, satellite development, ground station construction, satellite navigation and positioning, as well as climate change monitoring and disaster management. 

Cooperation with African countries also provides important support to China’s space development, with Namibia being a notable example. Chinese audiences watching live broadcast of space missions sometimes are thrilled to hear the mention of Namibia in the command centre. It is a space tracking, telemetry and command station, located in Namibia’s coastal town of Swakopmund, reporting its tracking data. The station, built in 2000, is China’s first such station in the southern hemisphere and plays a key role in tracking the re-entry of China’s manned space vehicles, and in projects on lunar exploration and deep space exploration.  

In August 2019, the station received Liu Yang, China’s first female taikonaut in space, and her colleague Chen Dong, who were on a five-day visit to Namibia for a range of interactions including inspiring the youth of Namibia to pursue their dreams. Before them, Yang Liwei, China’s first taikonaut, visited Namibia in 2010. These activities reflect the importance China attaches to the bilateral cooperation and reveal how space cooperation can bring the Chinese and African people closer. 

Both China and Africa are aiming high in the space sector. In Africa, the African Union Commission inaugurated the African Space Agency in January 2023. Based in the Egyptian Space City, the institution is the result of decade-long efforts to build a platform for coordinated space activities in the continent. It aims to grow a vibrant space market in the continent and an African-led space agenda, among other objectives, according to the statute of the agency. Meanwhile, China is marching towards a number of ambitious goals, including sending taikonauts to the moon and bringing back earth samples from Mars by 2030. With the two sides walking in the same direction, the potential for future cooperation is bright.

African Times has published this article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine.



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