In very exciting news for the Continent, October 2013 saw the launch of phase one of Ethiopia’s space exploration programme. Ethiopia is s now the seat of East Africa’s largest observatory, boasting two large telescopes, each one metre wide. According to the observatory director, Dr Solomon Belay, “the optical astronomical telescope is mainly intended for astronomy and astrophysics observation research”, according to a report carried in allafrica news titled: Ethiopia Sets Sights On Stars With Space Program. The news report further states that telescopes will enable astronomers to see and study “extra planets, different types of stars, the Milky Way, and deep galaxies”. The observatory is situated 3, 200 metres above sea level in the Entoto Mountains outside Addis Ababa. The location is regarded as ideal for space exploration because of minimal cloud cover, low humidity and moderate winds.
The Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) is the custodian of the observatory, which was built at a cost of 3, 4 million dollars as outlined in the report. The Ethiopian-Saudi business tycoon Mohammed Al Amoudi provided funding for the initiative. Sheikh Al Amoudi was born in Ethiopia but emigrated to Saudi Arabia at 19 years of age. He has been a major investor in Ethiopia since the 1980’s.
The Ethiopian Space Science Society was established in 2004 and faced scepticism, primarily because it was not regarded as a priority in a country beset by a myriad of socio-economic challenges. Its reputation has grown and it has won increasing political support. There is also collaboration with universities which have introduced astronomy courses.
According to the report, the ESSS is now looking to open a second observatory, 4,200 meters (13,800 feet) above sea level, in the mountainous northern town of Lalibela, also the site of the largest cluster of Ethiopia’s ancient rock-hewn churches.
Ethiopia’s ESSS is planning to launch its first satellite within three years to study meteorology and boost telecommunications.
Ethiopia’s space programme will have a number of spin offs, including (1) boosting research and development; (2) increasing investment in the sciences; (3) the potential for collaboration with other astronomy agencies; and (5) tourism.
More specifically, Ethiopia’s astronomical programme will require strong computing and will eventually be able to play a role in studying and predicting weather and climate patters, including climate change. It also has the potential to be proactive in urban planning. The programme will also boost many sectors, including agriculture, industry, science and technology, medicine and nutrition.
On 25 May 2012, it was announced that South Africa in a partnership initiative with eight partner countries in Africa would host the Square Kilometre Array. The SKA will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope. It will have the capacity to “see back to before the first stars and galaxies were formed” according to a report named: Transformational science with the SKA. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be a radio telescope and instead of seeing light waves, it will make pictures from radio waves, according to the report.
South Africa’s SKA project team has demonstrated excellence in science and engineering skills by designing and starting to build the MeerKAT telescope, which is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The first seven dishes of the KAT-7 are complete and have already produced the first pictures. MeerKAT is attracting great interest internationally. More than 500 international astronomers and 58 from Africa have submitted proposals to use MeerKAT technology for scientific projects once it is complete states the report.
The report affirms that the technology being developed for MeerKAT is cutting-edge. One of the key benefits of the project is that it is creating a large group of young scientists and engineers with world-class expertise in the technologies which will be crucial in the next 10 – 20 years, such as very fast computing and data transport, large networks of sensors, software radios and imaging algorithms.
Since 2005, the African SKA Human Capital Development Programme has awarded close to 400 grants (2012) for studies in astronomy and engineering from undergraduate to post-doctoral level, while also investing in training programmes for technicians. Astronomy courses are being taught as a result of the SKA Africa project in Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius (which has had a radio telescope for many years) and are soon to start in other countries as highlighted in the report.
Space programmes have a pivotal role to play in the overall advancement of the scientific, industrial and engineering complex of a country. A further important aspect is the role these large projects potentially play in attracting scientists to the continent. Ultimately, policy makers need to shape the frameworks for encouraging investment in the science and engineering arena and encouraging young people to follow careers in the sciences. This will contribute directly to alleviating many of the continent’s developmental challenges.
TAN : Proudly Staying Devoted to our Purpose the need to Inform and Educate is stronger than ever. Bridging Cultures Through Communication – Print | Online | Digital Media – Make a Difference be a Sponsor