Africa’s space industry has been growing steadily for many years, but it is on the precipice of entering a new, accelerated phase of growth—at least that was the overarching sentiment at the recent NewSpace Africa conference held in Ivory Coast this past April.

The event, which was co-organized by the African Union Commission (AUC) for the first time, brought together industry and political leaders from across the continent to discuss how national space agencies, multilateral organizations and other partners can work together to drive innovation and broaden access to space technology and data.

As a key partner to space agencies and government organizations across Africa, Maxar had an opportunity to participate in many of these discussions, and there were a few consistent takeaways from stage talks and our own meetings.

Africa is building the foundation for long-term collaboration and investment

The AU was highly visible throughout the conference, reflecting the organization’s commitment to leading the push for pan-continental collaboration. The conference was an ideal opportunity to build on the formal establishment of the African Space Agency (AfSA), an African Union (AU) AU-led initiative that came to fruition in January 2023. Dr. Tidiane Ouattara, AUC’s Space Science Expert and Coordinator for Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa Programme, shared more about AfSA’s vision and structure, including its unique funding approach which relies on funding from the AUC as opposed to individual member states.

The event was one of the first opportunities for heads of national space agencies to meet with leaders from AUC to discuss long-term planning for AfSA, including how AfSA can support national space policies and programs and how to address the agency’s long-term funding needs. While there is still much work to do, the AUC has built a foundation for advancing the continent’s space ambitions.

Space as a driver of economic growth

The theme of the conference was “Space for Africa’s Socioeconomic Transformation,” and there was broad excitement for the potential of space-based technology in helping drive economic opportunity. Our conversations with space agency leaders focused largely on how remote sensing data could be used to help address key socioeconomic issues such as:

  • Maritime monitoring: Remote sensing solutions, such as Maxar’s Crow’s News platform, can help with illegal trafficking or fishing activity in areas like the Gulf of Guinea, as well as with monitoring offshore assets such as oil platforms to ensure compliance with local regulations.
  • Border security: Many countries across Africa have long land borders in remote areas, and it’s critical to be able to monitor these borders remotely to assist with security priorities.
  • Economic opportunity: Satellite data can enable economic opportunities, such as digitizing land deeds as part of national land tenure programs. Maxar works with several partners across the continent to deliver on this use case, as well as others that provide similar economic benefits.
  • Census mapping: Optical satellite data and radio frequency (RF) data can be used to help with human population and agriculture census mapping—it’s far cheaper than on-ground alternatives and is critical in enabling effective policy development as populations grow.
  • Disaster and environmental response: Remote sensing technologies provide near real-time insights of the impacts of natural disasters, such as flooding events, and are also helping countries preserve biodiversity and natural ecosystems that serve as important national assets.

Private partnership key to capacity building

There was widespread acknowledgment that commercial industry will play a key role in helping countries achieve their space ambitions. Private companies can offer scalable solutions that help reduce the cost and increase the speed of accessing and using these technologies. For example, Maxar offers several Earth Intelligence products that provide customers with broad access to geospatial intelligence, including optical imagery, RF, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and 3D data. Customers across Africa are accessing these solutions today to help address many of their national priorities.

As a next step, it will be important for the private sector to provide additional training and related opportunities that help build local industry. One good example is the Africa Earth Observation Challenge, which empowers local entrepreneurs.

In short, it’s an exciting time for Africa’s space industry, and we can’t wait to see how the industry grows and evolves in the years to come.

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