The Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) on Tuesday announced that it is developing a plan to launch its first ever research satellite into space.
Set to be launched into orbit in three to five years, the satellite is aimed to better develop the country’s weather-monitoring capabilities, among assisting in other advances.
The announcement follows the 2015 construction of a privately-funded, multi-million dollar astronomical observatory in the Entoto hills overlooking Addis Ababa – the only one of its kind in the region.
Africa’s second most populous nation has been a subject of repeated severe drought over recent years, and news of the space programme has drawn criticism on government spending. However, the government hopes that the space programme will eventually boost local agricultural production and further scale up industrial communication.
“They call us crazy because they think we’re [only] exploring outer space and gazing at the stars,” Abinet Ezra of the Ethiopian Space Science Society told the Guardian. “But they can’t see the bigger picture.”
Space technology is thought to hold value for economic development, job creation and military aspirations.
If utilised effectively, it has the potential to improve agriculture, better disaster planning and provide internet to rural communities.
Satellites have also been used to increase military might, acting as advanced tools for security and intelligence gathering.
Ethiopia has not specified whether its satellite would also be utilised for military or surveillance purposes.
Ethiopia is not the first African country to set its eyes on the sky. A number of countries have manufactured, launched and operated satellites – from the South African National Space Agency to the Nigerian equivalent.
Many of these satellites have been used for military purposes, with Nigeria using theirs to assist security agencies in locating Boko Haram.
The latest announcement from the ESSS is thought to have inspired other regional neighbours, including Sudan and Kenya, to speed up their space ambitions.