Ethiopia launched its first satellite on Friday, a landmark achievement for the country’s space programme that caps a banner year for the African space industry.
The launch of the Ethiopian Remote Sensing Satellite (ETRSS) took place at a space station in China, though scores of Ethiopian and Chinese officials and scientists gathered at the Entoto Observatory and Research Centre outside the capital, Addis Ababa, early Friday to watch a live broadcast.
“This will be a foundation for our historic journey to prosperity,” Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen said in a speech. “This technological infrastructure is important even if it’s delayed.”
It is the eighth launch of an African satellite this year, topping the previous record of seven in 2017, according to Temidayo Oniosun, managing director of Space in Africa, a Nigeria-based firm that tracks African space programmes.
“We can say that 2019 is pretty much the best year in the history of the African space industry,” Oniosun said.
The launch makes Ethiopia the eleventh African country to put a satellite into space. Egypt was the first in 1998.
All told, 41 African satellites have now been launched — 38 from individual countries and three more that were multilateral efforts, Oniosun said.
None of those launches has taken place from African soil.
Data provided by Ethiopia’s satellite is expected to paint a fuller picture of the country’s agriculture, forestry and mining resources and improve responses to flooding and other disasters.
China covered most of the $8 million cost of the satellite, according to an official involved in Ethiopia’s space programme who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to disclose details of the project.
The space programme was originally championed by private individuals who formed the Ethiopian Space Science Society in 2004.
The government established the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute in 2016.