Egyptian satellite will monitor water security, Renaissance Dam

Egypt launched the EgyptSat 2 satellite on April 14 to help with borders, resources and the Renaissance Dam.

al-monitor A man walks over a bridge by the construction of the Renaissance Dam, June 28, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri.
Ayah Aman

Ayah Aman

@ayahaman

Topics covered

water security, technology, renaissance dam, ethiopia, egypt, development, border security

May 8, 2014

CAIRO — The Egyptian government and research institutions are hanging great hopes on the expanded use of satellite technology for the development and monitoring of underground water supplies and coastal regions endangered by climate change. However, those efforts are still dependent on the availability of expertise and adequate financial resources to finance Egypt’s ambitious space program.

On April 14, the Egyptian government, in a statement obtained by Al-Monitor, announced the launch of its EgyptSat 2 satellite from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, bolstering Egypt’s presence in space. This comes in preparation for the establishment of the Egyptian Space Agency and the latter’s contribution to all areas of Egyptian development, including agriculture, industry, mining, urban planning, water, the environment and the early detection of natural hazards.

Medhat Mokhtar, the head of Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences, told Al-Monitor the satellite will not be used for military purposes. “The new satellite will primarily help advance three main issues: namely, the conclusion of studies to develop the Suez Canal axis, the development of projects for the southeastern region of Egypt and the monitoring of the Renaissance Dam’s effects on the water security of Egypt,” he said, noting that "the satellite will not serve any military purposes, but its uses do fall within the purview of national security through the monitoring of Egypt’s borders with its neighbors and the detection of illegal activities along our borders."

Mokhtar added that, with the launch of this new satellite, Egypt is regaining the role it played among Arab and African nations with regard to the exploitation of space — following a period when South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya surpassed it. This launch came because of a loss of communications with EgyptSat 1 in 2010, which meant Egyptian research institutions had to resort to requesting satellite imagery from foreign space administrations.

Egypt’s first space program was initiated in 1960 and was subsequently shelved numerous times until its first independent budget was adopted in 2000 to fund space research, following the launch of the country’s first satellite NileSat 101 in 1998.

The loss of EgyptSat 1 raised a lot of media speculation about possible interference by foreign powers that sabotaged or jammed communications with the satellite, leading to it diverging from its prescribed orbit.

The head of the research department and vice president of the Authority for Remote Sensing, Alaa al-Nahri, told Al-Monitor that Egypt’s political leadership is in favor of establishing a space agency.

“The need was great to launch a new Egyptian satellite. Egypt’s political leadership now realizes the importance that satellites have vis-a-vis a number of developmental fields. This issue now garners great political support, and the new president is expected to sign a law establishing Egypt’s first space agency,” he said.

Egypt plans to launch another satellite in early 2016, with financial assistance from China.

“EgyptSat 3 is expected to launch in early 2016 and will be 60% made in Egypt. Financing it will not be a problem because China will contribute a significant portion of its funding,” Nahri said.

Egyptian fears concerning the effects of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s water security is also a primary motivator behind the satellites. “Studying the effects of the Renaissance Dam on Egypt is the most important issue for the Authority for Remote Sensing right now. The new satellite’s imagery is expected to yield data and information pertaining to the dam’s design and the volume of water that it will trap, to determine the flow rate of water to Egypt and the direct impact on the valley and the Delta.”

Many contentious developmental projects remain the subject of dispute among scientists and Egyptian research institutions, such as the developmental corridor project proposed by Egyptian researcher Farouk al-Baz for the Western Desert. This is in addition to other agricultural and developmental projects in the Eastern Desert, Sinai, Sharq Al-Owainat, Toshka and the Halayeb and Shalateen Triangle, which remain under review despite that final decisions can be made about them based on information and data provided by satellite imagery.

Egypt’s space program still suffers from a lack of scientific expertise and technology to properly analyze satellite imagery, according to Baheyeddin Arjun, the former director of Egypt’s old space program. “Effectively making use of satellite technological applications is the main challenge faced by Egypt in space. We currently do not possess enough scientific centers to make use of and analyze satellite imagery. There also is a deficiency in the number and level of expertise of people working in this field inside Egypt.”

Arjun confirmed that funding was not a big hurdle for Egypt’s use of satellite technology, because it is relatively inexpensive. However, he noted that an assessment must be made as to the direct benefits of implementing those technologies.

Many Egyptian experts in agricultural, industrial and tourism development continue to count on the use of information provided by satellites, which would allow the state to make better-informed decisions about launching developmental projects in Egypt.

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