The first satellites launched by Uganda and Zimbabwe aim to improve life on the ground

by | Nov 20, 2022 | Top Stories

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Bonny Omara (left) works with Edgar Mujuni at Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology on the satellite that will be used to observe land conditions in Uganda.

Bonny Omara

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Bonny Omara

When Uganda’s very first satellite was launched into space last week on Nov. 7, Bonny Omara, the lead engineer on the satellite development team, was filled with emotion. “I was watching it on TV, together with my Honourable Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation,” he says. “It was really amazing and we hugged each other! To see my baby takeoff from the ground headed for the International Space Station — it’s really a great feeling of my life.” The satellite developed by Omara and his team, named PearlAfricaSat-1, was launched aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft, which lifted off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. In addition, the rocket was also carrying ZimSat-1, Zimbabwe’s first satellite. Both satellites were developed through the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Project 5, BIRDS-5, in collaboration with the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan. Omara, when asked about collaborating with engineers from Zimbabwe and Japan, says, “I feel really great to work with our neighbors in Africa … to have a team of engineers and great men joining hands to work together towards attaining a common goal.”

Uganda and Zimbabwe join an ever growing number of African countries that are building up their space technology capabilities. To date, 52 satellites have been launched by 14 African countries, including the two launched last week. The satellites, which have by now reached the International Space Station, are set to be deployed over the next few weeks, depending upon environmental conditions. It is a historic moment for the two countries, who now hope the data collected by the satellites will help improve life on the ground. Big things come in small packages Many of the modern devices we use every day function because of satellite technology — something that’s often taken for granted.

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Uganda’s satellite is small, but packs a punch. It will be able to transmit data that will help Ugandans make the best use of their natural resources.

Bonny Omara

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Bonny Omara

“Space technologies are essentially the backbone of the modern economy,” says Kwaku Sumah, founder of SpaceHubs Africa, a service company that helps stimulate the African space ecosystem. “You sometimes don’t even know that you’re using them. But for example, if you’re using Google Maps … or even things like Zoom, or broadband communication, that’s all powered by satellite services.” Sumah and SpaceHubs Africa were not involved in the development of the recently launched satellites. However, Uganda and Zimbabwe’s satellites won’t be providing wireless services to anyone. Instead, they’ve been developed for the purposes of earth observation.
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