Taifa 1, Kenya’s first operational 3U nanosatellite, was set to launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in the U.S. state of California on Friday after being delayed twice. But the launch was scrubbed at the last minute because of unfavorable weather.
Teddy Warria, with Africa’s Talking Limited, a high-tech company, traveled to the University of Nairobi in Kenya from Kisumu, 563 kilometers west of Nairobi. He said he’ll stay as long it takes to witness the historic day.
“It shows us through science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and if we apply the lessons learned from STEM, we can go as far as our minds and imagination can take us,” Warria said.
Regardless of the delay, Charles Mwangi, the acting director of space sector and technology development at the Kenya Space Agency, said the satellite is quite significant.
“… [I]t’s initiating conversations we’ve not been having in terms of what our role within the space sector should be,” Mwangi said. “How do we leverage the potential space to address our societal need. More importantly, how do we catalyze research and activities of developing systems within our region.”
Mwangi told VOA that launching the satellite will have some major benefits “that will help us in monitoring our forests, doing crop prediction, determine where the yield for our crops, disaster management, planning.”
The satellite was developed by nine Kenyan engineers and cost $385,000 to build. The engineers collaborated with Bulgarian aerospace manufacturer Endurosat AD for testing and parts.
Pattern Odhiambo, an electrical and electronics engineer at the Kenyan Space Agency, who worked on the Taifa 1 mission, said, “I took part in deciding what kind of a camera we are supposed to have on this mission, so that we can meet the mission’s objectives, which is to take images over the Kenyan territory for agricultural use, for urban planning, monitoring of natural resources and the likes.”
And, as the communication subsystem lead, he also had other tasks.
“I took part in the design of the radio frequency link between the satellite and the ground station, the decision-making process on the kind of modulation schemes you can have on the satellite, the kind of transmitter power, the kind of antenna you are supposed to have,” he said.
Samuel Nyangi, a University of Nairobi graduate in astronomy and Astro physics, was also at the university to witness his country’s history making.
“If you look at the African countries that are economically strong — Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt — they all have very strong space industries. We are so proud of the Kenya Space Agency, having taken this initiative, because the satellite data that we use [is] from foreign nations, specifically NASA in the United States. For us having our own data, tailoring it to our own needs as Kenyans, it’s a very big step,” Nyangi said.
This sentiment is echoed by Paul Baki, professor of Physics at the Technical University of Kenya, who participated in a panel discussion on education and research to help answer students’ questions. Baki told VOA this is a big leap for Kenya.
“We have walked this journey, I think, for over 20 years when the first draft space policy was done in 1994,” Baki said. “We’ve decided that we are going to walk the talk and build something domestically. It has happened in approximately three years, which to me is no mean feat, and this is quite inspiring to our students because they have something to look up to.”
Student James Achesa, who is in his fourth year studying mechanical engineering at Nairobi University, explained his understanding of the Taifa 1 mission.
“It’ll help the small-scale farmer, as well as just general people in Kenya to see and understand where our country is going to. So, they might not enjoy the science of putting a spacecraft into space, but the science that does will come and disseminate to them at grassroots levels and will help them plan for their future,” Achesa said.
Ivy Kut, who has a bachelor’s degree in applied sciences and geoinformatics from the Technical University of Kenya, said, “It’s going to benefit Kenyans in that we are going to get our own satellite data with better resolution and that is going to inform a lot of decisions in all sectors, especially in the analysis of earth data.”
The next launch attempt is scheduled for Saturday.