Kenya launches first satellite into orbit

Taifa-1 is in orbit and monitoring Kenya’s agricultural landscape

Kenya launched its first fully operational Earth observation satellite into orbit in April 2023. The launch was postponed a few times due to bad weather conditions, but once it was launched, it was put into orbit without incident. 

It was launched from the Vanderberg base in California, United States, onboard the Falcon-9, a SpaceX rocket, at around 6:48am. 

The Taifa-1 (Nation-1 in Swahili) satellite will pass over Kenya once every four days, with its cameras switching off for recharging once it leaves the Kenyan border. 

It is said to monitor agriculture, floods, wildfires and aid in food security, disaster management and climate change in the country. Kenya is currently going through an unprecedented drought, according to the United Nations website. 

The construction cost 50 million Kenyan shillings over two years and is estimated to be in operation for five years. According to the Kenya Space Agency (KSA) this is the first of a constellation of Earth observation satellites. 

The KSA was founded in 2017 and established under the Ministry of Defense, with a mandate to promote, coordinate and regulate space related activities in Kenya. 

They hope to achieve this through promotion of research and innovations in space science, technology and respective applications as well as enhancing the regulatory framework.

Kenya has a long history when it comes to space related activities. In 1964 Kenya and Italy collaborated in establishing a satellite launching and tracking base in Malindi, a town on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. From 1967 – 1989 over 20 sounding rockets and 9 rockets were launched from the Malindi station base, according to the KSA website. 

In May 2018 Kenya launched its first nano-satelitte into orbit from the International Space Station. The satellite, called 1KUNS-PF, has a low-resolution camera on board and is a technology demonstrator, constructed by the University of Nairobi. 

According to Space in Africa, as of 2022, there are approximately 50 African satellites that have been deployed in space, with Egypt being the first to send a satellite to space in 1998.