A manifesto to foster scientific, technological and educational cooperation between Africa and Europe on advanced Earth observation and data processing systems and their applications for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been signed.
The Lisbon Manifesto on Earth Observation for Africa and Europe 2021-2030 was the outcome of the Europe-Africa Space Earth Observation High-Level Forum held in Lisbon, Portugal on 10-11 June. It focused on the broad topic of space as an enabler for digital and green transitions, with Earth observation fostering sustainable development, new skills and job creation.
The manifesto provides for reinforcing European-African cooperation on advanced Earth observation and data processing systems and their applications in a user-driven approach as an essential tool for the digital and environmental transitions and fostering scientific, technological and business cooperation between Africa and Europe with the aim of developing Earth observation satellites.
Stewart Bernard, the chief scientist at the South African National Space Agency, who attended the forum, told University World News that an important outcome of the forum was the move to greater Europe-Africa collaboration on new missions and upstream development.
Space law and policy analyst Ruvimbo Samanga, also a participant in the forum, and the national point of contact for the United Nations Space Generation Advisory Council for Zimbabwe, told University World News that the most important outcome was a clear commitment and opening of pathways for future collaboration, “not only at the policy level, but also at programmatic level”.
“The commitment to address space applications for the SDGs, especially climate resilience, is the hallmark of the forum,” Samanga said.
“Earth Observation (EO) represents Africa’s largest space industry market segment. Likewise, Europe has a successful EO programme known as Copernicus and, therefore, this would be a great opportunity for both parties to share lessons learned and capacity-building mechanisms for mutual benefit,” Samanga added.
“I believe the Europe-Africa partnership will broaden up-skilling and re-skilling for youth and especially women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and STEM-related fields,” Samanga pointed out.
“This Europe-Africa cooperation will go a long way in boosting training and human capital development for space science and technology with the hope that more universities and public institutions adopt space-related curricula, even from early childhood development phase,” Samanga said.
“I must reiterate that, for these promises to be met, we require a sound policy and legislative reform,” she emphasised.
More space initiatives
In line with the approved Lisbon Manifesto, Egypt has announced national and regional space initiatives, including plans to launch two satellites next year.
This will take place alongside training and capacity-building programmes in various space fields for African researchers as well as distributing educational satellite sets among African countries, which will provide researchers and students with experience and technical skills.
The Egyptian space initiatives are in line with the manifesto and the outcomes of the Europe-Africa forum.
The Egyptian initiatives are also in line with the National Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2030, including the African Space Strategy which called, among other issues, for human capital development through supporting space science teaching and research at universities.
In his address at the forum, Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, has unveiled several national and regional space initiatives.
Egypt will launch two satellites next year, including NExSat-1, an experimental Earth observation satellite built by the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences in Egypt in collaboration with Berlin Space Technologies. It will be used for remote sensing and scientific research.
The Misr-Sat 2 is assembled in Egypt and funded by China. The mission of the satellite is imaging Egyptian soil to preserve the environment and undertaking remote sensing.
The Egyptian Space Agency will distribute educational satellite kits among African countries, which will provide researchers and students with experience and technical skills, enabling them to conduct further space research along with preparing future space scientists.
Training and capacity-building
Egypt will also launch training and capacity-building programmes for 18 African researchers in various space fields next month.
Abdel Ghaffar said at the forum: “We aim to transform Egypt into a centre for training, research and development in space activities, adopt and encourage African youth to explore new horizons in space science, prepare them for the transformation of the digital economy, develop and support emerging technologies, spread the use of satellite images to support activities, especially in the field of agriculture, and stimulate exploration and innovation and provide social and economic benefits to improve the lives of all Africans.”
He urged the European Union to mull the establishment of the European-African Space Training Programme in Egypt, adding that the Egyptian agency will provide full logistical support for the programme, which can provide annual training courses and degrees for African students and researchers.
The African Space Agency that will be hosted in Egypt will be an “essential accelerator” for cooperation with Europe, Abdel Ghaffar said, adding that Egypt will “spare no effort” in promoting multilateral cooperation in space activity and all support will be “provided to Africa to benefit from space technology and its applications”.
“Building a strong and fair partnership in the space field will be beneficial to all parties and will help stabilise African countries, achieve sustainable development goals and improve life for all residents of the continent,” said Abdel Ghaffar.
Space sciences for achieving SDGs
XN Iraki, an associate professor of data science, innovation and technology management at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, told University World News that Africa is “catching up in space sciences with the rest of the world”.
“From satellites, we shall go deeper into space technologies and data which are not only fundamental for achieving the SDGs but also essential for monitoring progress against the SDGs,” Iraki added.
“The spillover from this space exploration effort will be felt, not just in education, but in other sectors of the economy and across generations.”
David Baratoux, the research director of the Institute of Research for Development at the University of Toulouse, France, told University World News: “What is significant to me is the fact that Egypt is not only launching satellites, but is training a young generation of students and researchers to work with space-borne data.
“This global vision of developing space activities in Egypt warrants benefits (and achievements related to SDGs) for the development of the country as well as Africa,” said Baratoux, who is also a researcher at Felix Houphouet-Boigny University, Cote d’Ivoire.
Baratoux is the lead author of the June 2017 report entitled The State of Planetary and Space Sciences in Africa.
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