China Is Committed To Helping African Countries To Build Their Space Capability

An important feature of China developing its aerospace industry is its insistence on self-reliance and independent innovation, because China firmly believes that aerospace is a hi-tech industry and high core technologies cannot be bought. Only by mastering core technologies can China firmly grasp the initiative in development. 

Talent and infrastructure are bottlenecks that have long restricted Africa’s development. To help to improve African countries’ independent capabilities in space, China attaches great importance to providing intellectual support for African scientific researchers in satellite design, manufacturing, launch, control and other aspects under the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, cultivating and training a group of local African aerospace talents, and providing opportunities for the independent development of African aerospace technology.  

Since 2014, the Chinese government has offered scholarships to students from Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Togo, Cameroon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan and other African countries for postgraduate studies in the fields of remote sensing and geographic information systems, satellite communication and satellite navigation, and small satellite technology. In addition, China has also carried out scientific and technological innovation cooperation and exchange activities in the aerospace field with universities and scientific research institutions in many African countries. 

Capacity building 

After studying satellite image analysis for urban heat island mapping at the University of Rwanda for bachelor’s degree, Boaz Mwubahimana, a 28-year-old Rwandan, applied for Chinese government scholarship in March 2022 for postgraduate study in China. After obtaining the scholarship, Mwubahimana arrived in China last year to pursue a master’s degree in photogrammetry and remote sensing at the State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing, Wuhan University in central China’s Hubei Province. 

“I was fortunate to be here and be involved in a Chinese state key laboratory. I have learned a lot,” Mwubahimana told ChinAfrica

In China, he had a chance to study global navigation satellite system, and did research on BeiDou technologies, especially navigation systems. “I have also been trained on application of BeiDou satellite technology in countries joining the Belt and Road Initiative.” 

“China has made tremendous innovation in aerospace, especially when it comes to navigation, and now BeiDou’s high-precision location-based services have almost surpassed other global navigation systems such as GPS of the US, GLONASS of Russia and Galileo of Europe,” he told ChinAfrica

Mwubahimana wants to continue his study in China for a Ph.D, and then go back to Rwanda. “I specialise in data analysis, and I wish to contribute to urban and ecology management after I go back to Rwanda,” he said.

Building future  

Besides Wuhan University, the UN-affiliated Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (China), located at Beihang University in Beijing, actively carries out education and training projects in aerospace-related fields in Africa. Since 2014, it has used Chinese government scholarships to fully support over 30 African postgraduate students in majors such as remote sensing and geographic information systems, satellite communication and navigation, and satellite technology. The centre has held 24 short-term training courses for African students.  

The Belt and Road Aerospace Innovation Alliance, launched in April 2017 by the Northwest Polytechnical University of China and the Chinese Society of Astronautics, is a joint effort inspired by the Belt and Road Initiative and intended to serve as a platform for talent development, teaching and knowledge transfer in the aerospace field. Six universities and scientific research institutions from Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Tunisia, Cameroon and other countries have joined the alliance to promote scientific and technological innovation cooperation and exchange in the aerospace field.  

The alliance held the first Winter Camp – 2019 Light of Egypt, on 21-31 January 2019 in Cairo, Egypt. More than 100 teachers and students from 15 universities in five African countries explored the mysteries of space science and technology by participating in various lectures. In 2020, the alliance established the African Regional Development Centre in Egypt, which will expand its regional cooperation and exchange network in Africa, driving more universities and research institutions in Africa to participate in cooperation. 

Independent development 

The Entoto Space Observatory Facility sits at an altitude of 3,200 metres on the hill of Entoto, about 20 km north of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. In the command and control centre, technicians are recording the data sent back by Ethiopia’s first satellite – ETRSS-1 – in real time. 

In December 2019, the East African country launched its first-ever satellite into space from China. The ground station of the 72-kg multispectral remote sensing satellite is located in the Entoto Space Observatory Facility. 

The remote sensing satellite is expected to monitor the environment and weather patterns for better agricultural planning, early warning for drought, mining activities and forestry management of the country. 

Yilkal Eshete, project manager with Satellite and Ground Systems Development of the Ethiopian Space Science and Geospatial Institute, still remembers working with Chinese partners. 

“During the satellite development process, more than 20 Ethiopian engineers and scientists received training in satellite technology, ground applications, and satellite manoeuvring from China,” Eshete told ChinAfrica. After the satellite was launched and entered into orbit, Ethiopian engineers could independently run ground operations and application systems. 

China Telemetry, Tracking and Command Station was built and put into operation in Swakopmund, Namibia about 20 years ago and has since linked China and Namibia through space. Many Namibian space technology technicians have benefitted from the station’s training programmes. An agreement to train Namibian personnel in Beijing was inked in 2002 between China and Namibia. China completed three cycles of technical training, including professional theoretical knowledge, aeronautical technical knowledge, and operation skills, in that order, between 2004 and 2011.

“After many batches of training, Namibian technicians have been able to independently complete the tracking tasks and form a talent echelon,” the leader of the first Namibian technical team said during an interview. He has received in-station training since 2004 and passed the postgraduate examination under the guidance of Chinese staff. Later, he became the director of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia. 

“Namibia and China have carried out space cooperation for more than 20 years. With the help of China, more and more Namibian engineers have become the backbone of Namibia’s aerospace field,” Alfred van Kent, executive director at the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation of Namibia, said in an interview with Global Times.

According to Eugene Avenant, chief engineer with the South African National Space Agency Space Operations Division, China has not only assisted African countries in the construction and launch of satellites on many occasions, but also fully supported them to foster the capability to independently develop the space sector. Offering high-quality training for African researchers in design, manufacturing, launch and control of satellites, China has nurtured a batch of space talents for African countries.

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



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