Djibouti has entered into a technological partnership with the Chinese company Hong Kong Aerospace Technology to build a $1 billion satellite and rocket launch facility in the country.
According to African Business, this could see the launch of the first Africa-made satellite from African soil, as the black continent currently has no active rocket launch site.
The agreement was signed by Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, in the presence of a delegation from Hong Kong Aerospace Technology, including the company’s vice president Allen Fung. The project would last five years, with construction expected to be completed by 2027.
In a tweet by the president, he stated that the deal calls for the full handover of the constructed infrastructure to Djibouti after 30 years of co-management.
The project also involves building an international-standard port and highway in Obock’s northern region to transport materials required to develop aerospace sites.
While expressing his utmost excitement for the project, he said
“I am proud to announce a prior technology partnership agreement with Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group for the design and operation of satellite and rocket launch pads in Djibouti…I am delighted to see our country commit to this promising technological and energy development project…”
The Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group, which focuses on satellite network engineering and precise satellite manufacturing, claims to be Hong Kong’s first commercial aerospace enterprise. The company owns five technical hubs and manufacturing facilities, including a satellite manufacturing hub and a satellite data hub.
Hu Bin, the Chinese ambassador, further appreciated the Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group for their cooperation.
He also encouraged the enterprise to strengthen its feasible research and compliance awareness, to consider corporate interests and social responsibilities, and to promote the development of Kyrgyzstan’s diverse economy as they contribute to China-Kyrgyzstan cooperation.
Djibouti’s project paving the way for the African space industry
Djibouti is not the first African country interested in satellite design and construction. The industry had grown tremendously over the past 21 years when South Africa launched the first African satellite, SunSat-1, into space.
According to WITF, a total of 52 satellites have been launched by 14 African states as of November 2022. However, none of these satellites launched by African countries was launched from Africa.
Although there have been rocket sites created in the region. In 1948, after the second world war, the French Army created a site in Algeria. the French ran it. However, it was closed in 1967.
Between 1977 to 1978, Germany launched another rocket launch site in Zaire, now Dr Congo, but it was also shut down for political reasons. Egypt had a rocket launch program and a site, but it was shut down after several attempts.
South Africa had its rocket launch site, the Overberg centre, from 1989 to 1992, but it only served as a test site for rocket launching without actually launching any.
If this deal is executed successfully, it would be Africa’s first active rocket launch site. This will have a favourable impact on the sector and the emergence of new businesses on the continent. The African space sector was valued at $19.49 billion in August 2022, but by 2026 it is anticipated to reach $22.64 billion.
Also, because there is a dearth of satellite component manufacturing in the region, this Djibouti initiative could increase demand for components created in Africa. They will be able to expand economically since it will create a new chain of commercial opportunities.
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