Kenya’s has made history with its first ever locally-made satellite making its journey to the International Space Station (located on the earth’s low orbit at an altitude of 2,000 Km which is 200 times the 10.6 Km altitude planes fly at ) on 2 April, where it will be deployed/thrown into orbit in May. “Kenya is proud to be associated with and involved, through TICAD VI, in the development of the satellite. We hope this is only a beginning of many collaborations and initiatives for Kenya under the KiboCUBE programme, said Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Monica Juma.
The satellite is the collaborative work of the University of Nairobi and the University of Rome under a partnership initiative involving the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXE) called the KiboCUBE programme. The program offers research and educational institutions in developing countries, the opportunity to use the Japanese Experiment Module-also called Kibo (located in space) to launch mini cube satellites into orbit.
Traditionally, small satellites would be launched and released into orbit by being attached to rockets that were transporting the main satellite, and once the main satellite was released, the small hitchhiking satellites would then be launched into orbit. This was only possible if the transporting rocket had the capacity to carry extra weight in addition to the main satellite. This made launching a small satellite cumbersome, inefficient and highly dependent on the launch of the bigger satellites.
However, the satellite that Kenya has launched is a new model known as a CubeSats, a small cubic satellite between 10-50 centimetre that can easily be carried into a space station by cargo ships (ships used to resupply the space station), and then using a robotic arm attached to the space station, they are aimed at their planned path (orbit) and released (just like how one would throw a basketball into the rim). An example of such a system is the Japanese Experiment Module Robotic Manipulator System (JEMRMS) which-thanks to the KiboCUBE program, Kenya will use.
The cube satellite will be used to monitor agriculture and Kenya’s coastline. Its use in agriculture will aid in the fight against climate change by enabling proactive action. Change in winds, moisture content, vegetation etc. can all be monitored from the satellite and together, used to predict the impending effect on crop yields.
With the rise of big data technologies, the data collected by the satellite has wide application areas; from crop insurance to futures markets. For instance, information from the satellite can be used to alert pastoralists in Turkana County that the amount of pasture left will not take them through the coming six months; appropriate action can then be taken.
The satellite’s monitoring of the coastline will enable data collection on sea level increase, river runoff, extreme events like storms etc. which is crucial at a time of rapid climate change and urbanisation. Kenya becomes the fifth country after Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Egypt to launch a space satellite thanks to the new CubeStat technology.
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