The prospect of a grand Africa – Europe partnership to accelerate space development

Africa is a continent with 55 countries and a billion human beings expected to exceed two billion by 2050.  The needs of this vast number of people represent an opportunity for Europe comparable to Asia.  But Africa starts on Europe’s doorstep.  Africa already supplies Europe with vital materials in addition to gold, diamonds, fruit, and cut flowers.  The 850 million cell phones in use in Africa are imported as are most cars, trucks, railroads, and numerous consumer products, many of which come from Europe.  But, increasingly apps for cell phones and other software are coming from Africa.  While schemes have been proposed to transform the Sahara into a vast solar energy facility beaming energy across the Mediterranean to meet the needs of Europe few other ideas have emerged to forge a long term partnership between the African Union and the European Union.

 africa size

The UN forecasts Africa to double in population by 2050 to over 2 billion people.  The Continent grew at 5.6% in real terms in 2013 and is expected to exceed 6% growth for at least the next decade (http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/overview).  This explosive growth of a huge continent challenges all aspects of governance and sustainably meeting human needs.

 Space technology offers the potential for very long term partnership good for Europe and good for Africa.

Africa is the fastest growing continental region in the world both in terms of its economy and in terms of population while Europe anticipates a declining population and slow growth.  Europe in general has well-developed infrastructure, strong industrial base and high educational attainment, literacy and average income.  Both continents face serious problems with often complementing assets and liabilities suggesting substantial opportunities for collaboration, particularly in the development of civilian space to meet human needs.

A promising way to meet the challenge of this explosive growth in the continent that is also the poorest is through technologies that can rapidly scale without large-scale investment in infrastructure.  Space technologies are key to any development strategy for Africa.  Space technologies enable distant learning via satellite, environmental monitoring from orbit, telemedicine, and other ways to deliver needed services to large, highly distributed populations.  There is already 83% penetration of cellphones in Africa while literacy ranges from highs of 96% for Libya to several countries hovering above 20%.

While current space programs in Africa are tiny with just a few satellite launches and a small number of ground stations, the rapidly declining costs and the advent of nanosatellites and increasingly powerful communications technologies is opening up major opportunities for African nations. Indicative of future trends is the assessment of professor Juma “In its vision to become a middle-income country by 2030, Kenya has singled out scientific and technological advancement as a key driver for growth.”   Specific to space Juma states: “Developing a space sector is not just a vanity effort but a critical investment for national development. Advances in technology are dramatically lowering the cost of running such a program. In fact, several sub-Saharan African countries have space plans or programs, of which Nigeria is the most advanced.” See – http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/06/opinion/african-innovation-take-on-world/index.html.  Budgets for space can be expected to increase significantly as African governments and companies within Africa can increasingly afford space technologies to address their needs.

State of space technology, science and education in Africa
Overall leadership for space technology and space science is increasingly coming from the African Union with support from the United Nations as well as from NASA, ESA and national space agencies.  The African Union sees space technology in playing a crucial role in the following –priority areas:

  • remote sensing
  • navigation and communication
  • natural resource management
  • environmental management
  • climate change
  • food security
  • defense, peace and security
  • diseases outbreak management

Source –  http://www.unidir.ch/files/conferences/pdfs/looking-ahead-to-african-space-initiatives-the-work-of-the-african-union-in-developing-regional-options-for-improving-access-to-space-based-services-en-1-867.pdf

Basis for EU-AU partnership in space

The EU is over 500 million people with a high level of industrial development and educational attainment.  While the EU has not been a major player in space development its role is increasing with space becoming an increasingly significant factor in the Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

The EU space industrial policy is the linchpin of the Horizon 2020 space related programming as well as of the European Space Agency.  The ESA  annual budget (2014) is 4.102 billion http://www.esa.int/For_Media/Highlights/ESA_budget_2014 EUR while Horizon 2020 Space over the period 2014-2020 is 1.7 billion EUR http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/;jsessionid=c22cTHZZjqzPkzdQmZJ3FLhCSQXJQx2SGJpNzWntxVt4KdYFJpTV!1849227980?uri=CELEX:52013DC0108 .  The combined European space budget is roughly one fourth of the US NASA space budget.

The EU space industrial policy assumes a strong market for space technologies and for the potential of EU based industry and R&D to compete in this market.  Key sectors in this market are include manufacturing of satellites and other space equipment, launchers and satellite services. Satellite services include telecommunications (60% of turnover EU based turnover), navigation services, and earth observation services – resources, environment, and security. Copernicus benefits are estimated at 34.7 through 2030.  GNSS is expected to reach $300 billion within a decade. European manufacturers and scientific research also participate in global as well as ESA driven space science which creates a market for research equipment.  The EU space industrial policy stresses the achievement of technical non-dependence.

Africa has major needs that can be effectively met with the application of space technology and space services utilization that can be developed in partnership with the EU.  The EU has developed an innovation accelerating infrastructure for cross-border, multinational collaboration with its Framework RDT&I programs culminating in the Horizon 2020.  A similar process applied to a North-South partnership in space offers substantial promise to both regions.  Of particular note is that Europe is comprised of many relatively small countries. The more recent members that were formerly part of the sphere of influence of the former Soviet Union are particularly noteworthy insofar as during the Soviet period they were tasked to develop technical and scientific capabilities to support the Soviet military and space effort. When the Soviet Union collapsed these capabilities remained, but they lost their customer. Now, with many of the countries of Central Europe and the Baltic States joining ESA their legacy space capabilities are gaining more opportunities to be put to use.  An EU-AU partnership that expanded these opportunities would accelerate cohesion policy to bring Central Europe and the Baltic States up the EU levels in economic development and the RTD&I that would be required.

Scenario for AU-EU partnership in space

Presently, Africa has nearly a billion people, twice the population of the EU which is about 500,000.  By 2050 the population of Africa is expected to be about two billion, while the population of the EU will be unchanged, but reflect an aging population.  Europe has technology, capital and a highly developed cultural and educational infrastructure.  University enrollments are expected to decline in Europe while they are expected to significantly increase in Africa. This appears to offer the opportunity for significant increases in use of EU educational infrastructure and research capabilities, if a payment mechanism could be developed to make this possible.  If this could be made to work economic development would advance in both continents with acceleration occurring in Africa with a particularly strong impact on building the middle class thereby also contributing to greater stability.

If a source of wealth were identified that could be developed by 2050 with exponentially increasing cash flows between now and then, the AU-EU partnership could be financed.

According to many reports, the solar system is full of incredible resources and sources of wealth.  If these future resources could be identified with a defined, feasible method for their economic use, then financing for their exploitation becomes possible.  Undersea resources that are assessed using geophysics are used to justify exploration and development that costs billions of dollars where the recovery of exploitable resources has to be projected out to 20 or more years into the future.   A comparable calculus is thinkable for space resources. An argument for use of natural resources of asteroids that are banked is presented in the article “The Asteroid Mining Bank”, (Beldavs, 2013) , see – http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2226/1 .  A comparable “bank” could be developed on the basis of lunar resources.  However, so far neither the extent of resources nor their method of utilization has been sufficiently identified for such resources to be bankable and serve as “backing” for large scale financing.  There are, however, other space resources that could be “bankable” and justify major financing.  In the 2002-2005 period ESA conducted a feasibility study of space based solar power.  The study assumed that power would be delivered from geosynchronous orbit via microwave beams to receiving antennas (rectennas) in the Sahara desert feeding into the EUMENA grid.  See – http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/library/esa.html.

Japan is anticipating use of SBSP and in fact includes 2 GW of generating capacity for its need in orbit by 2030.  The Japanese construction giant Shimizu has proposed putting a belt of solar collectors on the Moon to provide electrical power to the Earth  see – http://www.ibtimes.com/japanese-company-proposes-giant-solar-panel-belt-around-moon-solve-energy-problems-1489570 .  Such megaprojects might be financed for trillions and trillions of dollars.  While the required investment is huge, it may require no more than the approximately $100 trillion that the International Energy Agency estimates that will have to be invested in power generation by 2050 to meet anticipated demand.  The IEA estimates that decarbonization would require $48 trillion but save $71 trillion in fuel costs.  See – http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2014/0512/IEA-Clean-energy-shift-will-save-world-71-trillion-through-2050.  This suggests that space development estimates should look at scenarios that may require trillions of dollars of investment because such investments must be made in any case whether the power is generated on space or on Earth.  The fact is that in space the sun shines 24 hours a day 365 days a year with an intensity about 9 times of the average solar intensity on the Earth.

What if the AU in partnership with the EU and other partners could launch a project that may ultimately require a comparable investment by 2050 as the IEA estimates will be needed to generate carbon free electricity for the Earth by 2050.  The Shimizu project of a power generating beltway on the Moon could well take considerably less than $100 trillion, yet supply most of the electrical power required by the Earth by 2050.  Construction would be largely robotic.  Lunar resources are cheap once the factories have been built.  Materials to construct the facility would not have to be shipped from the Earth.  But, there are dozens of other scenarios possible for “bankable” resources in space that could finance the development of Africa, the EU and in fact the rest of the world.

A modest proposal

The African Union get the ball rolling by getting all of its member states to ratify the Moon Treaty.  While many in the space industry consider the Moon Treaty as a failed treaty with only 16 ratifying States Parties if all 54 member states of the AU ratified the Treaty, the count would be up to 70.  Such a treaty could no longer be ignored by anyone.  If the EU encouraged its member states to also ratify the treaty the count would increase by 25 since Austria, Belgium and Netherland are already ratifying states.  This task would be eased by the fact that France and Romania have already signed the Treaty.

After the African Union Commission gets the ball rolling by getting its members to ratify the Treaty it can request the Secretary General of the UN to convene in Africa a meeting of the States Parties to begin deliberation on the issue of the international regime for the exploitation of the resources of the Moon as called for in Article 11, par. 5, of the Treaty:

States Parties to this Agreement hereby undertake to establish an international regime, including appropriate procedures, to govern the exploitation of the natural resources of the Moon as such exploitation is about to become feasible. This provision shall be implemented in accordance with article 18 of this Agreement.

What “international regime” can mean is to identify the wealth resources that can be “bankable” for long term development of the Moon and other prospective celestial bodies and to develop a method for financing and developing these resources.  Among the many outcomes would be dramatic increase in demand for RDT&I across a very broad spectrum of interests including long term habitation of people in space, on the Moon or other celestial bodies.  The European Union has developed the Horizon 2020 process to guide RDT&I to guide and fund research and development and innovation to meet the grand challenges facing Europe.  The European Commission could contribute by developing a similar method for RDT&I to accelerate the industrial development of space to meet human needs on Earth through the industrial development of space starting with business incubators on the Moon and other ways to spark entrepreneurial discovery and innovation.  Tens of thousands of students and young scientists from Africa could fill European universities and gain experience in European research centers to be transferred to institutions in Africa all funded as part of the grand challenge of developing space as the common heritage of all mankind.

Author

Vid Beldavs is a futurist living in Jelgava, Latvia who also works as the Commercialization Strategist for the FOTONIKA-LV research association of the University of Latvia in Riga.  He is also a collaborating partner in Latvia of the Finland based Space Technology and Science Group, Oy.

 


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