Every year on the 12th of April, the world marks International Day of Human Space Flight. The date echoes the 12th of April 1961 when the first human space flight was carried out by Yuri Gagarin. According to the UN, the day is marked to “celebrate each year at the international level the beginning of the space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples”.
The University of Nairobi in collaboration with the University of Rome-La Sapienza developed Kenya’s first satellite and recently launched it into the International Space Station. The cube satellite was developed under the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The satellite is known as First Kenya University Nano Satellite-Precursor Flight (1KUNS-PF). The Nano satellite is in the shape of a 10 by 10 centimeter cube with a volume of one litre. It will be deployed from the International Space Station with a robotic arm into space sometime in late May 2018.
The University of Nairobi team said it would use the satellite to test techniques it has developed for the future launch of a larger earth observation satellite. The satellite will also be used to observe farming trends.
The 1KUNS-PF satellite marks the maiden voyage for Kenya into space exploration. The country has an interest in the area and in a March 2017 gazette notice, the Kenya Space Agency was established. The agency has an array of responsibilities including coordinating space related activities, recommending national space policies and establishing centers of excellence in space science. The agency is headquartered in the Department of Defense. The Ministry of Defense has the mandate to promote, co-ordinate and regulate national space activities.
However, a chairperson of the board for the agency has not been appointed and thus operations cannot commence. It is hoped that once the political climate in the country has settled, a chairperson will be appointed and operations can begin.
Space technology can be of great use to country especially in regards to agriculture and metrology. With the launch of Kenya’s first satellite, it is clear we have the capability to venture into the space arena and make our own mark in this unique field.