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Egypt Turns Its Scientific Attention to Space

Egypt has taken steps to create an integrated space science program. Those steps include beginning to establish an Egyptian Space Agency, agreeing to host the African Space Agency and introducing space science courses in public universities beginning with the next academic year.

In addition, a faculty of navigation sciences and space technology has been opened at Beni Suef University,  a public university south of Cairo, and the government has launched a remote-sensing satellite known as EgyptSat A.

“Space is the future, and its resources are unlimited,” said Ali Sadiq, president of the Egyptian Council for Space Research and the founder of the Egyptian space program. Sadiq said that space discovery is millions of times more important than the discovery of the ancient world’s continents for “It contains resources that represent the magic solution to all the crises we are currently living in, whether it was related to energy, water or living space.”

In February, the Egyptian satellite, EgyptSat A, a remote-sensing satellite, was launched from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome, a spaceport in Kazakhstan leased to Russia. The new satellite replaces the former satellite EgyptSat-2, launched in April 2014 and lost in February 2015, and is Egypt’s third remote-sensing satellite. The new one-ton satellite has a design similar to the previous one, but with a larger digital memory. The satellite was manufactured by a team of Egyptian researchers.

“The launch of the new satellite has helped train dozens of Egyptian researchers and engineers based on an agreement signed with the Russian researchers, which is very important,” said Hussein al-Shafei, adviser to the Russian Space Agency and head of the Egyptian-Russian Foundation for Culture and Science.

The new satellite will serve scientific research in Egypt in many ways, according to a press release from the minister of higher education and scientific research, Khalid Abdul Ghaffar. “The new satellite will provide high-resolution imagery of the Earth,” he said, “increase the possibilities of urban planning, monitor desertification and attacks on state lands, track crop planting and growth, as well as monitoring the sea, river and waterways.”

“The Egyptian satellite supports the role of Egypt in the Arab and African levels in the field of scientific research and supports development projects in the Arab region and the African continent,” the statement added.

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Egypt became the first Arab country to put a telecommunications satellite into space with the launch of NileSat 101 in 1998. That satellite was followed in 2000 by Nilesat 102, which helped distribute hundreds of satellite TV channels. In 2007, Egypt launched EgyptSat-1, which became the first Egyptian remote-sensing satellite, and was manufactured in cooperation between Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences and Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye State Design Office.

The remote sensing satellite was developed instead of the EgyptSat-2 that went out of order in 2015. (Image: Russian Space Web)

Parallel Projects

Before the launch of the new satellite, Beni Suef University, about 115 kilometers south of Cairo, this year opened the Faculty of Navigation Science and Space Technology. The faculty has about 140 students, 10 faculty members and six laboratories for the analysis and design of space missions, analysis of satellite images, and design of spacecraft. The faculty also has the capacity to assemble small satellites.

“We need to prepare good teams for different space disciplines in line with recent developments,” said Mervat Awad, dean of the faculty, referring to the expansion of government efforts. The faculty has three departments: space navigation, space communications and space science. It will grant bachelor’s degrees along with space-science master’s degrees and doctorates.

In March, Egypt won the competition to host the permanent headquarters of the African Space Agency, which will coordinate and consolidate space research among the 54 internationally recognized African countries.

“The establishment of an African space agency is a necessity for the continent to benefit from the vital areas of development such as agriculture, mining and environment, as well as other important areas, such as telecommunications and passive monitoring of natural hazards and water sources,” said Alaa al-Nahri, vice president of the UN Regional Center for Space Science and Technology Education in West Asia, which has its office in Jordan.

Islam Abu al-Magd, adviser for African affairs to Egypt’s minister of higher education and scientific research, believes that the African Space Agency will support the economic and social development of the continent and train collaborative teams who can exchange experiences.

“The agency will have an active role in supporting scientific research and development between Egyptian and African universities in the fields of space technology and applications of remote sensing,” he said.

Still, the talk about Egypt’s possession of a space-based technology industry seems premature to some experts.

“Scientific, research and production powers in Egypt are scattered among research centers, universities, receiving stations, etc., and each group operates in a separate program,” said Hussein Al-Shafei, advisor to the Russian Space Agency and head of the Egyptian-Russian Foundation for Culture and Science. “Such efforts must be consolidated and cooperation should be promoted to achieve the desired results more quickly,” he added.


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