The Egyptian satellite, Egyptsat-A, launched on Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, has settled into its designated orbit, Egypt and Russia announced soon after the launch.
“The satellite has reached its designated orbit, everything works well, telemetry is being transmitted, the solar panels have opened,” reported Vladimir Ustimenko, head of the Press Bureau of Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos.
In a press conference in Cairo on Friday, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar confirmed the successful launch and placement in orbit.
The process was closely watched by aerospace and other authorities in Cairo and Moscow, especially in light of two previous incidents. In 2010, the first in this series of satellites, Egyptsat-1, slipped out of its orbit and contact with it was lost.
In 2016, a joint Egyptian-Russian committee revealed that Egyptsat-2 had been unresponsive to commands since mid-April 2015, a year after being launched from the Baikonur space station in April 2014.
The compensation from a Russian insurance agency largely paid for the production of Egyptsat-A, which cost approximately $100 million.
The new satellite will serve scientific research and development in Egypt in many ways. In an interview with Sputnik news agency, Higher Education Minister Abdel-Ghaffar said that Egyptsat-A, a significantly upgraded model of its predecessor, is equipped with more sophisticated and precise imaging and tracking technologies.
The data it transmits will improve meteorological forecasting and assist in the development of early warning systems for natural disasters such as floods and landslides.
The new satellite will simultaneously support Egypt’s role in Africa in the fields of scientific research and development. According to reports of its technical specifications, Egyptsat-A belongs to a more advanced generation than its counterparts in the Arab region and the continent.
Earlier this month the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) approved Egypt’s bid to host the headquarters of the African Space Agency.
As officials in Cairo have noted, this represents an additional vote of confidence in Egypt’s continental leadership at a time when Cairo holds the AU chair.
According to Minister of Higher Education Abdel-Ghaffar, there are a number of steps that Egypt needs to take in order to host the African Space Agency. One is to pass legislation governing a national Egyptian space agency to follow through on the Egyptian parliament’s decision, in December 2017, to create a body to be tasked with planning and creating the infrastructure for a domestic aerospace technology industry.
Practical measures towards these ends are already in progress and considerable progress has been made in the development of the required infrastructure and technical facilities.
Egypt presented these achievements to the AU’s Scientific, Technical and Research Commission (STRC) in October as part of the review of Egypt’s scientific, logistical, technological and financial capacities for hosting the African Space Agency.
In addition to meeting or exceeding the technical criteria specified by the AU commission, a number of other factors allowed the Egyptian bid to prevail over others.
These included the allocation of a suitable plot of land on which to build the agency’s headquarters, $10 million to establish it, and an offer to cover its running costs for at least five years.
The development and launch of Egyptsat-A also boosts Egyptian-Russian relations which have been growing closer in many fields.
Hussein Al-Shafie, advisor to the Russian Space Agency in the Middle East, says Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences has already acquired a collection of new-generation satellites as part of its drive to possess the latest aerospace technology.
Meanwhile, Cairo and Paris have agreed to launch a satellite for security-related purposes. Egypt also explored the possibilities for cooperation with China during President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Beijing to take part in the China-African Summit in September.
According to Alaa Al-Nahri, deputy director of the UN Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology, China could offer a manufacturing partnership that will give Egypt the opportunity to contribute up to 50 per cent of the satellite and offer the opportunity for technological transfers.
He said that China will assemble some parts and send them to Egypt while Egypt will assemble a portion of the components domestically at the assembly plant that Egypt began to construct east of Cairo in 2015. It is the first such plant in the Arab region.
Egypt is progressing in leaps and bounds towards the acquisition of the technologies it needs to advance in the various realms of scientific research and, simultaneously, the technologies it needs to serve its security requirements.
It has also begun to explore manufacturing these technologies through partnerships with the countries that originally created and produced them.
In addition to placing these technologies at the service of national interests, Egypt will also use them to help realise the collective aims and aspirations of the AU.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Up and working