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NAIROBI —Kenya has taken its first step into space with the launch Friday of a nano-satellite made at the University of Nairobi. Engineers involved in creating the cube-shaped space capsule described it as Kenya’s joining the space club, although much remains to be done to get the Kenya space program off the ground.
Kenyans cheered as a live stream broadcast Friday at the University of Nairobi showed the country’s first homemade satellite being launched from the International Space Station.
Japan’s space agency deployed the small, cube-shaped nano-satellite using an airlock and robotic platform called Kibo, the only way to launch CubeSats.
The space capsule was designed by students and scientists at the university. They celebrated the landmark achievement.
Faith Karanja, a senior lecturer with the Department of Geospatial and Space Technology, worked on the satellite program. She said the successful launch shows Kenya has now joined other nations in the space club.
“It has really taken us to the next level. Because, really, what we have been doing is...we have just been users of space technology, space science and technology. In fact, we were in the category where we were calling ourselves ‘space-aspiring nation.’ In as far as now we are concerned, once the deployment has been done and it is successful, we are in the same league as the spacefaring nation,” Karanja said.
Kenya’s space agency was established just last year and has done little since, however.
While the nano-satellite represents a step toward a viable space program in Kenya, it’s a baby step that has required a lot of help.
The nano-satellite is quite small - 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters. And it weighs only 1.2 kilograms.
The small satellite was designed with the help of experts from Italy’s Sapienza University of Rome and Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. Japan funded much of the venture, spending about a million dollars on the project.
And while Kenyans did much of the technology design work, the satellite was taken to the space station in April by a SpaceX rocket during a resupply mission.
Nonetheless, Kenyan engineering students like Lucy Ruto are impressed with the achievement so far.
“I am very happy because this program comes at a time when some of Kenya's students left abroad to study geospatial and space technology, leaving our universities. I am extremely happy because I know when they are there, they will know that we can compete with a space program,” Ruto said.
The University of Nairobi is already making plans for further satellite development. Peter Ngau is head of the College of Architecture and Engineering.
“Our next step is one, to try to make the next bigger size of this nano satellite. The one we have done is called 1-U. We need to make 3-U. 3-U can contain high resolution camera. It can also contain equipment for communication. So, this one will require another one year to make,” Ngau said.
Ngau said the university has sent three Kenyan students for advanced science degrees at Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology-famous for nano-satellite testing.
The University of Nairobi says Kenya’s first satellite will be used to collect data on wildlife, weather forecasting, disaster management, and food security-among other goals.