Professor of the Practice of International Development
Space Technology and Africa’s Development: The Strategic Role of Small Satellites
Juma, Calestous, Wesley L. Harris, and Peter B. Waswa. "Space Technology and Africa’s Development: The Strategic Role of Small Satellites." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP17-043, September 2017.
In 2014 the African Union adopted a 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024). The strategy provides a flexible framework for adopting flagship programs that involve a number of countries based on their needs, capabilities and long-term development objectives. Some areas of technological endeavor, however, represent foundations upon which economic activities are constructed. One of those areas is building geospatial data infrastructure. This can be achieved through a variety of data-collecting measures ranging from large satellites to unmanned aerial vehicles.
The opportunity to use remote sensing technology for development has never been greater. There are over 100 remote sensing satellites currently in orbit, with over half designed to gather imagery that could be used for development. The industry is also growing: the OECD estimates that over 250 satellites will be launched during this decade alone, compared to half that amount during the last decade. Recent innovations around satellite technologies have also driven down costs and made it viable for low-income countries to develop cost-effective satellite programs.
This paper examines small satellite programs as windows of opportunity for countries to achieve their development goals. First, it locates the potential socioeconomic benefits of satellites in low-income countries. Next, it explores the recent history of, and lessons learned by, South Africa, Brazil, and South Korea. While tens of other countries have developed satellite programs, these case studies offer insights into how and why countries have created successful programs. Next, this chapter examines the latest technologies and focuses on emerging opportunities for current and future space programs. Lastly, it develops concrete options and a clear strategy for policymakers in emerging markets to consider when designing future programs.