Eyeing The Stars: Ethiopia’s Space Programme


file-25-sky gazing_0Space has long been the sphere explored by established and developed nations. However, developing nations are fast catching up in the field of space science. Although only a handful of African countries – such as South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Morocco – currently have space programmes of their own, others are joining their ranks, including Ghana and Ethiopia.

In its bold mission to build a society with a highly developed scientist culture, Ethiopia’s invented online space programme that comes in the form of two telescopes situated on the top of Mount Entoto will not only place Ethiopia amongst a few African countries that have shown interest in space, but also helps it in reaping the benefits from space science and the technology platform.

This breed is one of a kind and a first in Eastern Africa, it is also part of a space programme that is aimed at giving Ethiopians a technological upgrade to aid the country’s rapid development that is underway.

One of two reflective one-meter telescopes is pictured in the grounds of The Entoto Observatory and Research Center
One of two reflective one-meter telescopes is pictured in the grounds of The Entoto Observatory and Research Center

“Science is part of any development cycle – without science and technology nothing can be achieved,” said Abinet Ezra, Communications Director for the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS). “Our main priority is to inspire the young generation to be involved in science and technology.”

The ESSS was a set up initiated in 2004 to promote astronomy and was funded by Ethiopian business tycoon, Mohammed Al Amoudi.

Ethiopian authorities are convinced that the impoverished country can benefit from a programme of its kind, and today houses $3 million worth of computer-controlled telescopes to measure wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.

This programme is also economically friendly as it allows the University of Addis Ababa students to train on the site than taking expensive trips to go study abroad.

Reflective telescopes at the Entoto Observatory and Research Center, on the outskirts of Addis Abab

However, the site at Entoto struggles to compete with the world’s major observatories, including the far larger Southern African Large Telescope in South Africa, as a result of regular cloud cover during the rainy season and its proximity to the lights of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia therefore has plans to build a far more powerful observatory in the northern mountains around Lalibela, far from city lights.

The Ethiopian government hopes to launch a national space agency and to put an Ethiopian satellite in orbit within five years, for the monitoring of farmland and to boost communications. “We are using space applications in everyday activities, for mobile phones, weather — space applications are fundamental,” said Kelali Adhana, the International Astronomical Union chief for East Africa, based in Ethiopia. “We cannot postpone it, otherwise we allow ourselves to live in poverty.”