In 2022, Zimbabwe will join the growing list of African countries that have put a satellite into orbit. Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has revealed that the locally assembled nanosatellite – ZIMSAT-1 – has reached an advanced stage of development. The president revealed this during the launch of a new complex for the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA). In addition, preparation and review of the flight will take place in December 2021 and its launch in Japan in February 2022.
The following interview between Sifelani Tsiko (ST), Agric, Editor-in-Chief of Environment and Innovations and Dr Electdom Matandirotya (EM), Acting Chief Scientist of (ZINGSA), gives a better overview of the Agency. Zimbabwe space.
ST: In 2018, President Mnangagwa launched ZINGSA to promote the country’s interests in geospatial science, earth observation, and satellite communication systems. What do you think of the opening of the ZINGSA housing complex? What does this show?
EM: For me, it’s a dream come true. I have always hoped that Zimbabwe would fully explore geospatial and space technologies to solve the socio-economic problems of our country. When dreams come true, then we are happy. The opening of the complex is just a demonstration of yet another adoption of the Education 5.0 philosophy and, in this regard, innovation through space exploration. At least now the nation is aware that there is innovation and industrialization through the exploration of geospatial and space technologies for improving the livelihoods of people here in Zimbabwe directly or indirectly.
ST: What is the main objective of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency?
EM: The Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency was launched by the President in 2018. This was a strategic decision as the government recognized the need to tackle socio-economic issues with the help of geospatial and space technologies. It is essential to note that the innovative research activities taking place at the agency have covered and will cover many research gaps that existed prior to this initiative. All of this will be in line with Vision 2030 – “Towards a prosperous and empowered upper middle income society by 2030”. Therefore, the agency’s launch demonstrates Zimbabwe’s readiness to create and maintain a vibrant national geospatial and space science and technology program. This program will significantly respond to the changing needs of humanity. The nation will also increase its share of the global space market and global competitiveness and create greater space autonomy and be among the top innovators.
ST: What are the main areas of intervention of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency?
EM: ZINGSA has four technical departments and one administrative department. The technical departments are geospatial science and earth observation, space science, space engineering and space operations and launch services. These ministries have several mandates. For example, the Department of Geospatial Sciences and Earth Observation will carry out specialized research and development activities on projects and activities on geospatial applications and Earth observation, including mining and mineral exploration, disaster management , meteorology, climate, geospatial intelligence, agriculture and ecosystems.
The program is responsible for developing and promoting Earth observation products for socio-economic development and improved livelihoods in Zimbabwe. The program will also develop and maintain a long-term archive of satellite data for national benefits essential to detecting changes to better understand our heritage and environmental changes over time and space. Construction of the main facilities will be completed. Apart from this, we have the space engineering department responsible for engineering advice and assistance to ZINGSA programs and projects, innovations for space from concept to applications, training of scientists and engineers and inspiration from space research to better understand Earth, our solar system and beyond.
We plan to manufacture Earth observation satellites, communications satellites, navigation equipment, mechanical ground support equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles. The Space Science Department will focus on applied research in space physics such as space science, astrophysics, space weather and planetary science. It will facilitate research activities as well as the hosting and management of several data acquisition units in order to provide relevant and high quality spatial scientific data. The Space Operations and Launch Services Department will prepare and implement Earth observation missions, command and control of satellites and other communication centers.
ST: How do you plan to access, use and exploit space technology and innovation for the benefit of the country?
EM: The starting point is the creation of a platform where ZINGSA engages with its stakeholders. These commitments create a platform where appropriate methodologies are formulated to ensure a profitable and useful end product. Different sectors will require different inputs from ZINGSA, and an appropriate geospatial technique will be applied. Some methodologies will require the establishment of a network of instruments for various parameters, both on the ground and in space. And in doing so, laboratories for the development of such instrumentation technologies will be set up. The whole process produces results such as improved laboratories, job creation, capacity building.
ST: How much has been invested so far in establishing the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency?
EM: I can’t say much about it, but the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science, Innovation and Development is better placed to answer this question.
ST: Zimbabwe and most other African countries are still lagging behind in space activities. What are the main reasons for this?
EM: There may be more than one reason for this. I can think of the fact that the initial cost of space exploration is very high. So, probably, most African countries would divert the resources they had for immediate problems. However, Africa has also realized that space exploration has many long-term benefits and investing in such an initiative is well worth it. This eliminates the situation in which Africa depends entirely on foreign space programs for some of its problems.
ST: The Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency is housed at the University of Zimbabwe. Can you tell us how UZ and ZINGSA are working to promote higher space education to ensure that Zimbabwe has the skills to play an active role in space science?
EM: The University of Zimbabwe currently plays an important role in anchoring the activities of the agency. The institution already has qualified space scientists, space engineers, GIS and Earth observation experts. These experts work with the agency for various projects.
During the reprogramming season which took place in 2019-2020, UZ introduced the Department of Space Science and Applied Physics. Two of the undergraduate programs in this department, namely the BSc Honors in Space Science and Technology (HSST) and the BSc Honors in Meteorology and Climate Sciences (HMCS), are strategically designed to impart adequate undergraduate skills in the field. atmospheric and ionospheric physics, space weather analysis, astrophysics, satellite communication, etc. The university also offers a BSc in GIS and Earth Observation, one of the fundamental foundations of remote sensing and Earth observation technologies. From its engineering faculties, there are undergraduate programs such as BSc Honors in Mechatronics. BSc Honors in Electronics and Electrical Engineering, BSc in Electronics and Telecommunications, Bsc Honors in Computer Science also contribute significantly to capacity building of graduates who can have a significant impact at the Geospatial and Space Agency.
ST: As of June 2020, 11 African countries (Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Sudan) had successfully launched 41 satellites into orbit. When do you think Zimbabwe will launch its satellite into orbit?
EM: The launch plans for our Zimbabwean satellites will be guided by the strategic plan, and when ready I’m sure the nation will know.
ST: What steps are you taking to promote gender parity in registration and agency to ensure that more women are involved?
EM: The space agency has four female junior scientists in technical departments, two in the space engineering department, one in the space science department and one as a communications engineer. I am also here to mentor the junior scientist, thus bringing the number of women in technical departments to 5. Of course, there is still work to be done to encourage young women to join the space industry. We hope that the International Space Week celebrations with the theme “Celebrating Women in Space” will have activities that inspire more young women to get excited about the space industry.
ST: The development of the Zimbabwean space agency requires a considerable investment. How do you mobilize the agency’s resources?
EM: For the moment, ZINGSA is funded by the government
ST: Many say that the development of the space agency offers only elitist advantages. Are there massive economic benefits at the local level? Give some examples.
EM: There are a lot of economic advantages to exploiting space technologies. The projects that ZINGSA has carried out so far are a typical demonstration of how the nation can improve its planning on the basis of accurate and recent data. Here I am referring to projects such as the Zimbabwe Agro-Ecological Zone Review, which gives a good overview of relevant agricultural activities that each zone can support. We also refer to the Zimbabwe Wetlands Master Plan. The project has sufficiently mapped the wetlands in the country, and each stakeholder can access and apply the data where appropriate.
ST: As Zimbabwe and most other African countries join the race to harness the space industry, how do you see the industry evolving in the future? Do you think Africa will make significant progress in bridging the digital and technological divide on the continent?
EM: Africa, through different service providers, has taken important steps to fill this gap. And if anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has also left Africa at a point where there is no more room to relax. And I hope that the space program will make a significant contribution to filling this gap.
Faleti Joshua is passionate about space in all its incomprehensible nature. He holds both an LL.B and a BL. Joshua is a music lover and a lawyer in his spare time.
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