At least 20 African countries have space programs – what does that mean for the space race?

At least 20 African countries have space programs – what does that mean for the space race?
Source: NASA/Handout via Reuters
Governments are investing in space programs like NASA because the technology developed as a part of these programs spurs economic growth and the creation of new technology.

Are governments and private industries really competing for space?

  • Yes! From countries to startups, the ability to dominate the unregulated space outside of earth’s atmosphere promises to bring with it security, money and bragging rights. Both governments and private companies want to be part of that.
  • Governments are investing in space programs like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States because the technology developed as a part of these programs spurs economic growth and the creation of new technology.
  • As The Planetary Society puts it, NASA is “creating positive ripples throughout the economy larger than other federal agencies on average.”

Where does Africa come in?

  • Well, African governments are just as eager to reap the benefits that space has to offer as anyone else. The leaders of many African nations are starting to invest more in space programs in an effort to gain some sort of footing in the space race.
  • But any investment made by African nations naturally pales in comparison to the amount that major countries – like the United States, Russia and China – have devoted to their own space programs.
  • Even though the whole continent of Africa may not be able to keep up with the spending powerhouses, the benefits of investing in a space race still outweigh falling further and further behind.

What has Africa been developing?

  • Wealthier countries like Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria have launched successful space programs but smaller economic countries have also invested. The island nation of Mauritius sent its first satellite into orbit in June. This satellite will help Mauritius’ space program to develop further in order to study land and ocean data from space.
  • Huge investments in programs and projects from other countries throughout Africa have trickled in too.
  • For example, The Nigerian government spent US$325 million on space agencies in 2019. This year, the government is believed to have budgeted US$500 million. While this is a drop in the bucket compared to NASA’s US$23 billion budget, it shows that Nigeria is committed to playing a role in space.
  • On March 22, the Ugandan government approved funding to build a satellite station. The country hopes to develop Uganda’s space capabilities enough that it’s able to launch its first satellite by 2022.
  • In 2019, five African countries launched satellites into space. That year, 41 African satellites orbited the earth. As this trend shows, investments and interest in space programs are clearly on the rise throughout the continent.

Why are African countries investing in space programs?

  • The development of promising space programs will help African countries attract outside investors.
  • What startups and private companies like Space-X prove is that if you have the money and the brains, you can easily get to space.
  • Many African governments believe that by funding space programs they have the possibility of attracting outside investment which could benefit other parts of the economy.
  • For example, the internationally-funded radio telescope project known as The Square Kilometer Array has antennas built in South Africa and Australia, but there are plans to expand into eight other African countries. This will bring thousands of high-paying jobs and an array of talent from other countries to teach locals engineering.

What does this mean for the global space race?

  • Basically nothing. To countries like the US, Russia and China, Africa’s contribution to the space race is meaningless.
  • China, for example, has launched a space rover named Zhurong to Mars. This is China’s space mission to Mars. They also plan to send astronauts to Mars by 2033, where they want to establish a base.
  • In addition to NASA and an assortment of space-crazed billionaires, the US has startup companies that are taking over the industry. Astra, a launch vehicle company based in California, hopes to launch a rocket into orbit every day by 2025, releasing satellites for whoever can pay into orbit.
  • Russia has also teamed up with China for multiple projects. Roscosmos, basically the Russian NASA, wants to send astronauts to the Chinese space station that was launched earlier this year. The collaboration may tilt the space race in the two countries’ favor.
  • African countries can’t compete with these three powerhouses, but while some African nations are only sending their first satellites into orbit, the benefits of such projects go beyond competing with rivals.

Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at