Djibouti Spaceport – A First in Africa

Africa is set to have its first-ever spaceport after the billion-dollar deal between China and Djibouti, a small country located in the Horn of Africa.

By Phenyo Mathapo

President Ismail Omar Guelleh, of Djibouti, announced a $1 billion partnership with Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group (HKATG) regarding the development of a rocket and satellite launch site in the northern region of Obock, earlier this year.

In January, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between HKATG, Touchroad International Holdings Group and the Djibouti government to confirm the construction and operation of an international commercial spaceport. It is set to have three rocket testing pads and seven satellite launch pads. The Djibouti government will provide a minimum of 10 sq. km of land and a term of co-management of 30 years. The spaceport is to take five years to complete. 

This project will be used to transport materials needed for the development of aerospace sites, and construction will include a highway to ensure the safety of those materials, a port facility, and a power grid. 

The construction of the spaceport marks a major expansion for China and its connection to Djibouti. This project is determined to grow the economy of the Djibouti nation and enhance its status. It is believed that satellite communication is crucial to bridge the connectivity gap in the continent. 

There have been attempts at small-scale launches in Africa, such as the Italian-operated Luigi Broglio Space Centre (San Marco) in Malindi, Kenya, however, the continent was without a launch site. 

Djibouti is located on the Gulf of Aden at the entrance of the Red Sea. This location is significant as almost 30% of global container traffic travel through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, with more than $1 trillion worth of goods. 

There has recently been an increase in the collaboration in space between China and many African countries. The value of the space and satellite industry in Africa has increased to more than, $19.6 billion as 14 countries have launched 52 satellites into space in 2022. Six of these satellites were built by China and one by the US.

In 2022 Djibouti announced that its space programme was working on the launch of two satellites called Djibouti 1A and Djibouti 1B. By sending ten engineers to the University Space Centre of Montpellier to learn about small satellite development, these projects would facilitate human capacity development. 

HKATG vowed to make this a fair deal where both parties win, thus promoting cooperation with Djibouti. This technological project will be the first orbital spaceport in Africa, positioning the continent in the global space race. Djibouti holds strategic significance as it accommodates the United States’ largest military base in Africa, as well as military bases of countries such as Italy, Japan, France and China. 

Satellites are ideal as they assist with predicting natural disasters, meteorology, droughts and managing agricultural seedlings. They also provide security by acting as surveillance systems in the case of a terrorist attack. 

Following a visit to China by Djibouti experts, a formal contract signing is set to occur in April or May 2023.