HELSINKI — China has delivered a set of satellites to Egypt as part of a program to develop the latter country’s capacity to assemble, integrate and test satellites.

China delivered two satellite prototypes and one flight model to Egypt in March. Final assembly and testing were carried out at the Egyptian Space Agency’s satellite assembly and test center.

A ceremony to mark the occasion was held by the agency June 25. The China-funded MisrSat II Satellite and AIT Centre implementation phase was initiated in 2019. The flight model will be transported to China for launch in the second half of this year. 

MisrSat II will have a resolution of around two meters and make an effective contribution to the Egypt Vision 2030 for sustainable development, according to Sherif Sedky, chief executive officer of the Egyptian Space Agency.

The completion of the project will provide Egypt with the integrated capacity to assemble and test satellites, according to Chinese state media.

“Through the development of the electric model and the mechanical thermal control model of satellites, especially when all the work was completed in Egypt’s assembly testing hall, we can see that Egypt is able to run all the tests on its assembly system, testing system, and large scale experimental system including mechanical system and thermal experiment system. It ensures Egypt can develop its future aerospace industry,” Cui Yufu, chief designer of MisrSat II satellite project, told CCTV.

The partnership is different to many of China’s previous engagements with countries with limited space industry capacity. China has in recent years enacted a strategy of offering turnkey projects which include satellite manufacture and launch as well as possible financing mechanisms. 

The country has launched communications and other satellites for countries including Belarus, Laos, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nigeria. China earlier this year carried out a pair of launches to put the Horus-1 and -2 satellites in orbit for Egypt. 

This new project, noted as being part of China’s strategic Belt and Road Initiative, however sees transfer of technology and know-how to Egypt.

“With this apparent shift from turnkey projects to the more technology and know-how transfer elements seen here, China may be emulating similar programs other countries have executed, such as the relationship between South Korea and the UAE that resulted in a similar trajectory of satellite development and knowledge exported from Korea to the UAE, or the numerous know-how and technology transfer projects between SSTL in the UK and several emerging space programmes,” says Ian Christensen, director of private sector programs at Secure World Foundation.

China is looking to build bridges in a similar manner with new engagement with the United Arab Emirates, which has announced a number of ambitious missions. Space resources start-up Origin Space, the UAE’s National Space Science and Technology Centre and the University of Hong Kong signed letters of intent this year regarding establishing a space technology center in Abu Dhabi. Chinese entities have entered into other agreements with Gulf countries in the past year.

“I think it’s important to look at this in context of China’s overall economic and diplomatic interests in Africa. China has clearly in recent years made a significant effort around building relationships throughout Africa as a source of infrastructure development funds and projects across multiple sectors,” Christensen said, regarding the project with Egypt.

“The linkage of this Misr II satellite project to the Belt and Road Initiative can be seen as a direct indicator that the Government of China sees space and satellite technology as part of the suite of offerings it is able to bring to bear in building relationships in Africa.  

“In this regard, the project can be seen as part of broader competition for partnership and access to developing markets on the African continent.”

In the context of space, the U.S. and China are both seeking partners for their respective Artemis and International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) moon initiatives. This month India became the 27th nation to sign the Artemis Accords, while China has been attracting partners and aims to formalize agreements with founding members of ILRS Cooperation Organization (ILRSCO) later this year.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...