Egypt considers space program

Egypt is looking into establishing a satellite-carrying rocket launch station, in a step that will allow Cairo to firmly put its feet on the path of satellite technology and space science.

al-monitor An Ariane V rocket is seen on the launchpad at the European Space Center at Kourou in French Guiana, Nov. 26, 2019. The launcher is carrying 2 satellites, the TIBA-1 communications satellite for the Government of Egypt and the Inmarsat GX5, a mobile communications satellite. Photo by JODY AMIET/AFP via Getty Images.
Mohamed Saied

Mohamed Saied

@MohamedSaiedF

Topics covered

environment, climate, desert, communications, technology, satellite, space

Sep 30, 2020

Egypt is looking into establishing a satellite-carrying rocket launch station on its territories, Mohamed al-Qousi, CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency (EgSA), told Al-Monitor.

The feasibility study is ready and awaiting the approval of the political and security leadership before it can be implemented, Qousi said, without specifying an implementation date. He noted that Egypt does not currently have a problem in seeking the help of foreign countries in the process of launching satellites.

On Sept. 21, Qousi told Elbalad.News that the satellite launch project is not a luxury, but rather a duty that must be fulfilled.

“We are now focusing on building satellites, while the launch process is secondary at the present time. Indeed, a feasibility study has been conducted but we currently have friendly countries that we cooperate with in the launch process, and we have no issue doing so for now,” Qousi told Al-Monitor.

On Nov. 26, 2019, Egypt successfully launched its first communications satellite, Tiba-1, from a base on the French Guiana island in South America, with the purpose of improving internet services and fighting terrorism.

A space rocket by the European company Arianespace, lifted off, carrying Tiba-1 toward the orbital position of 35.5 degrees East. Tiba-1, manufactured by Airbus and Thales Alenia Space, is supposed to remain in orbit for 15 years. The Egyptian government is handling the operation of controlling Tiba-1 from the headquarters of EgSA in the Fifth Settlement, in eastern Cairo.

Egypt has limited experience in the field of satellites as it dates back to 1998. It owns six satellites, some of which are out of service, and others are still operating efficiently. Unlike Tiba-1, its newest satellite, all of them are designated for the purposes of satellite communications and remote sensing technology.

Cairo is seeking to make its way into the field of space technology, toward which it started taking serious steps in early 2018, when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approved a law to establish EgSA.

The law defined the objectives of this agency, namely developing space science and technology, localizing them and improving its own capabilities to build and launch satellites from Egyptian territories in a way that serves development and achieves national security.

For funding, EgSA relies on loans, grants and donations, in addition to the financial budget that the state allocates to it in its general budget. The EgSA budget amounts to 65 million Egyptian pounds ($4.12 million) in fiscal year 2021.

Qousi told Youm7 newspaper Aug. 28 that EgSA is currently working on 22 space projects, the most prominent of which is manufacturing a satellite to monitor the Egyptian borders, scheduled to be launched between June and September 2021.

Speaking about the importance of satellite technology in securing the Egyptian borders, Qousi said that Egypt has a 1,100 kilometer-long (683-mile) borders with Libya, which has been mired in internal conflicts since 2011, in addition to the southern Egyptian border with a length of 1,200 kilometers (745 miles). “Securing such long borders and with equipment that relies on the human factor in extremely harsh conditions does not allow for a 24/7 cover nor a 100% security rate,” he noted.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Qousi said Egypt seeks to have a complete space system that includes building satellites and ground control stations. He noted that Egypt has a data receiving station in the southern city of Aswan, as well as a control station inside the EgSA headquarters.

Egypt is currently establishing a satellite collection center in the new administrative capital, in eastern Cairo, with a Chinese grant estimated at about $23 million. It is scheduled for completion in 2021.

China also provided a $45 million grant to Egypt in August 2018 to create the Misr Sat-2 satellite, provided that the satellite would be fully tested at the Egyptian satellite collection center before its launch, scheduled for September 2022.

“We are working on manufacturing another satellite, in partnership with a German company; [Egypt] is building 45% of this satellite, while the rest is being built by Germany. We are also cooperating with Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan to establish a joint satellite to monitor climate changes in the African continent,” Qousi said.

Essam Heggy, an Egyptian space scientist who works at NASA and supports the establishment of a satellite-carrying rocket launch station in Egypt, told Al-Monitor that this step comes within the framework of sustainable development and a true understanding of the importance of science and scientific research for economic advancement and improvement of citizens' lives.

He said that Egypt is a country whose basic resources, such as water, come from outside the borders, and its agricultural resources are affected by phenomena that come from outside its borders as well, such as climate change, desertification, sand movement and coastal erosion as a result of weather fluctuations in coastal areas. This, he explained, requires Egypt to have an understanding of environmental and natural phenomena outside its borders that greatly affect its economy and the daily life of the citizen.

Heggy stressed that such an understanding can only be through satellites.

He noted that Egypt uses the results of satellites from Western countries such as the European Space Agency, the Indian Space Agency, NASA, and others. But most of these satellites are designed with measures and standards for phenomena in European regions and North America and are not entirely dedicated to studying desert areas like Egypt. This is why, he noted, countries located in desert regions must design satellites for studying desert phenomena and launch them for these purposes.

“Does Egypt need a platform to launch rockets for space purposes? If we believe that Egypt needs to design satellites to study the aforementioned phenomena, then it most certainly does,” Heggy stressed.

He said that launching the satellites is the most costly step of the process, but with the presence of an Egyptian platform it will reduce the process of spending and allow Egypt to freely launch these satellites at the most appropriate time and without being linked to other international parties. This is particularly important when it comes to small satellites that Egypt relies on, as they need to be launched on a rocket that often carries another satellite, which forces Egypt to wait in order to share the launch.

“Spending funds on space science is a step toward understanding the sustainability of environmental, climatic and water factors and is not a waste of public money as some might see it,” Heggy concluded.

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