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Ethiopia launches its first-ever satellite just a year after fast-tracking plans to join Africa’s race to space.

The launch date was postponed by three days due to bad weather earlier this week.

The Ethiopian Remote Sensing Satellite-1, or ETRSS-1, was sent into space by a Long March 4B carrier rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in North China’s Shanxi province.

The exitement among those gathered to watch was palpable. And that is largely because of the large cohort of Ethiopian scientists and engineers who have been involved in the project.

Ethiopian and Chinese aerospace engineers built the 70kg satellite in China. The project involved 20 Ethiopian aerospace engineers, and 60 PhD and masters students.

China contributed 75% of the funds to build the $8m satellite.

Ethiopia has wanted to build and launch its own satellite for many years. In late 2018, the plans picked up steam amidst wider reforms of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s new government.

“The satellite will provide all the necessary data on changes in climate and weather-related phenomena that would be utilised for the country’s key targets in agriculture, forestry as well as natural resources protection initiatives,” Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde told the country’s parliament in October.

In January 2020, Ethiopia will also break ground on a satellite manufacturing, assembly, integration, and testing (MAIT) facility. A French company will build the facility with funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB).

In East Africa, Ethiopia will join Kenya and Rwanda as countries with satellites in orbit.

The continental space agency will be headquartered in Egypt, and will work to bring even more countries on board.


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