Is the United States Losing the African Space Race?

This commentary was originally published in War on the Rocks on June 23, 2020.

Africa’s space programs account for a very small part of the world’s space activity. But the continent’s profile in space is growing, and if decisionmakers in Washington don’t start paying closer attention to Africa’s orbital ambitions, the United States will see itself outpaced in this critical space race by China and Russia.

Since 1999, 11 African countries (Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Sudan) have successfully launched 38 unilateral and three multilateral satellites into orbit. Space in Africa, which was co-founded and managed by one of the authors, estimates that by 2024, at least 19 African countries will have launched at least one satellite into space, with the total number of satellites launched by African countries rising to over 90. In 2017, the African Union passed legislation to establish the African Space Agency and recently approved Egypt as host country for the new agency’s headquarters. South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations recently declared that “Africa’s demand for space products and services is among the world’s highest as the continent’s economy becomes increasingly dependent on space.”


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Judd Devermont