Angola eyes new satellite as African space race accelerates

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WARSAW, Poland — While Angola’s first telecom satellite, Angosat-1, failed not long after reaching orbit late last year, the sub-Saharan African nation will get a second shot at satellite ownership with the planned 2020 launch of Angosat-2.

Meanwhile, as the space race intensifies across the continent, a number of African countries, including Ghana, Morocco and Algeria, are developing their respective space programs, and local observers say that the African Union could bolster these efforts and act as a platform for international space cooperation.

Angosat-1 launched in December from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan onboard a Zenit 3F rocket. Russia’s RSC Energia, a subsidiary of the state-run space industry player Roscosmos, built the satellite. On Dec. 27, the Russian manufacturer said that contact was lost with the satellite, but communication was restored the same week. Eventually, the satellite stopped sending data and Energia confirmed it was inoperable.

Angola’s National Space Programme Management Office (GGPEN) says the Angosat-2 is to “cover the whole territory of Angola, Africa and parts of Europe, providing telecommunications services with 16 transponders in C-band and 6 Ku-band transponders,” — same as Angosat-1.

The Angolan government initiated the Angosat project by a decree passed in January 2006. The same year, a Russian consortium formed by state-run companies began to study the viability of the project, and in 2009, Angola’s authorities signed an agreement with Russia to develop the Angosat-1. As part of the deal, Energia built a control center in Funda, in north-western Angola, manned by local employees.

In a May 14 statement, the GGPEN said that the Angosat-2 will launch in 2020. Insurance worth $121 million for Angosat-1 will go toward Angosat-2, while Russia covers the remaining $199 million, according to Broadcast and Media Africa.

In an April 23 statement, RSC Energia said it will “fulfill all contractual obligations to participate in the development of the satellite communication and broadcasting system of Angola.”

“In the near future, [the] technical parameters of Angosat-2 will be agreed upon, and we’ll begin to manufacture it,” Vladimir Sontsev, the general director of RSC Energia, was quoted in the statement.

Asked about the parameters of the designed satellite, a spokesperson for RSC Energia told SpaceNews that, under “the terms of the agreement with [our] Angolan partners, we cannot provide this information” and declined further comment.

The GGPEN did not reply to a request for comment by publication time.

African space race accelerates

African space industry observers say that Angola is part of a larger trend across Africa where a number of countries have intensified their efforts to develop their respective space programs.

“Angola is among the African countries that recently announced a program to develop their space program and are expected to launch a satellite in the coming years,” Richard Damoah, an assistant research scientist who works at the Sciences and Exploration Directorate of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told SpaceNews. “To coordinate space activities on the continent, the African Union member states have decided to establish the African Space Agency, and, as a first step, they adopted the African Space Policy and Strategy during their meeting in [Ethiopia’s capital] Addis Ababa in early 2016. They are currently in the process of deciding on where to establish the headquarters of the agency.”

Other African countries that have accelerated their space-focused efforts include Ghana, which is also an African Union member state, and which successfully launched its first satellite, the GhanaSat-1 cubesat, last year.

Damoah, who coordinated Ghana’s cubesat project, said its main objectives are to “monitor the coastal boundaries of the country,” and to “train young science, technology, engineering and mathematics students in satellite technology.”

Alongside its partners, Ghana is also involved in the Africa Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences, whose goals include providing a forum for African planetary and space scientists with their international peers by facilitating cross-border collaborations, according to Damoah.

Other African countries which have bolstered their space efforts over the past years include Morocco and Algeria. Last November, Morocco launched its Mohammed-6A Earth observation satellite. Developed by a consortium formed by Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space. The satellite launched Nov. 7 to low Earth orbit on an Arianespace Vega rocket from French Guiana. The country is expected to launch Mohammed 6-B, its second Earth-observation satellites, this year.

Meanwhile, Morocco’s regional rival Algeria launched its first communication satellite, Alcomsat-1, from China on Dec. 11. China Great Wall Industry Corp., the Alcomsat-1 prime contractor, launched the satellite using a Long March-3B launch vehicle.