Zimbabwe’s space ambitions could receive a boost from China, which recently announced that it was willing to work with countries in the Global South to explore the other side of the universe.
In 2019, Zimbabwe launched its space agency, Zimbabwe National Geo-Spatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA) in 2019, which is envisaged to assist in the discovery of new minerals and renewable energy sources, wildlife monitoring and investor attraction.
It became the sixth African country to launch a space agency after South Africa, Ghana, Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria
Zimbabwe’s geo-spatial programme seeks to enhance Zimbabwe’s capabilities in global policy discourses on generation, access, use and regulation of the application of space technologies and innovations for sustainable development.
By having its own state of the art satellite system, which is currently the best possible way to gather information on impending weather phenomena, Zimbabwe presents its meteorologists and specialists an easier and faster method.
For a country which is reliant on obsolete ways of finding information on weather and the climate, the urgent activation of the space centre cannot be overemphasized as the country moves to minimize possible margins of error in its forecasts.
And with Zimbabwe’s economy being largely agro-based, it is important that the country uses modern ways of understanding climatic conditions and soil conditions, which can only be possible with satellite technology.
Zimbabwe should, therefore, take advantage of the recent announcement by China that it is ready to work with all countries and regions that are committed to the peaceful use of outer space to carry out more international cooperation and exchanges.
Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing last week that his country welcomed foreign astronauts to visit China’s space station and work with Chinese astronauts to jointly explore the mysteries of the universe and build a community with a shared future for mankind.
With the excellent bi-lateral relations that already exist between the two countries, it is important for Zimbabwe to make use of this open invitation considering that the Asian giant’s engagements and openness in outer space explorations have been welcomed worldwide and have produced win-win results.
Below are some of the space exploration projects that it has done on its own and in cooperation with other countries:
China conducted human body medical research in a micro-gravitational environment with France during the Shenzhou XI manned spaceflight mission, carried out joint CAVES training and maritime rescue drills with the European Astronaut Centre.
China has completed the selection of the first batch of international space science experiments to be conducted on Tianhe, and carried out technological cooperation and exchanges with Germany, Italy and Russia on space science experiments and the development of space station sections.
Tianwen 1 mission
In the China’s first Mars exploration project, China cooperated with the European Space Agency on engineering technology, and with Austria and France on payloads. It has established a Mars probe orbit data exchange mechanism with the United States, and launched international onboard payload cooperation in its asteroid exploration mission.
China has cooperated with foreign space agencies on engineering technology and carrying payloads for other countries in the lunar exploration. In the Chang’e 4 mission China cooperated with Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia on payloads.
The Chang’e 5 lunar probe brought back 1,731 grams of samples from the moon in 2020, and China said it would share the samples with the international community.
Beidou Navigation Satellite System
China has coordinated the development of Beidou system with the US GPS system, Russia’s GLONASS system and Europe’s Galileo system. It has carried out in-depth cooperation with them in the fields of compatibility, interoperability, monitoring and assessment, and joint application.
China has increased the system’s global service capacity by establishing cooperation forum mechanisms, building overseas centers and conducting satellite navigation cooperation with countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, South Africa, Algeria, and Thailand.
China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite program
In 1999, the first China-Brazil earth resource satellite was successfully launched, giving each country its first transmission-type remote sensing satellite. China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite 04A, the sixth satellite jointly built by China and Brazil, was launched in 2019.
The program set a good example for cooperation among developing countries in the field of space technology, and was praised as a model of “South-South cooperation”. Data from the satellites are provided to developing nations for free.
With this vast experience, China has a lot to offer in terms of skills transfer to Zimbabwean engineers in the various space related fields.
These fields include the following:
Aerospace or Aeronautical, Avionics &Instrumentation, Computer Engineering, Material Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Robotics Engineers, Space craft engineers, Telecommunication Engineers and Astronauts. There are also other fields not related to engineering these are Space Biologists, Space Lawyers, Astronomy, Basic space scientist.
Power Engineers are required as a satellite requires energy to power different subsystems of a satellite. Powers engineers develop and design power systems which can sustain the satellite in its entire life span. Different subsystems have different power requirements and it is the duty of the engineer to meet the requirement and also choose weight of components of the power subsystem. Power engineers oversee the manufacturing, installation, maintenance and repair of electrical sets and ensure that the power budget is adhered to. A strong back ground in sciences and mathematics is required and local universities offer such programs at degree level.
Mechanical Engineers design, develop and test the structure of the satellite whether it will be able to survive harsh conditions in space. Mechanical Engineers develop a weight budget which is allocated to each subsystem. A satellite needs to fit into the rocket and must be within the prescribed allocated weight. Each Engineer working on a different subsystem must work within the allocated weight budget. Local universities offer a graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Materials Engineers help in the design and development of composite material with the required atomic structure that can be able to withstand harsh conditions in space. The material used for space craft (satellite) is chosen by material engineers. Local Universities offer degree programmes in the field at degree and post graduate program.
Physicists are required in the defining the orbital parameters of the satellite and altitude determination and control which determines how the satellite will be moving in orbits. There is also a lot of mathematical equations used to describe the movement of the satellite so good understanding of mathematics is a requirement. Generally, physics and mathematics are intertwined subjects as many laws, theories are explained mathematically to give better understanding. Many local Universities offer degree programmes in the physics.
Computer engineers design and develop the brain of the satellite which has the responsibility of command and data handling of instructions to different subsystem of a satellite. For example, when a satellite is put in a rocket with its antenna panels folded but when it reaches in space in the required orbit a command will be send from the ground station to open panels so that communicate with the ground station and also charge the solar panels around the satellite to power it. Knowledge of computer programming languages is a pre requisite. Many local universities offer computer science degrees at graduate and post graduate level.
Software Engineers design and develop software to be used in the space mission and these can be used by the ground station in sending command to the satellite for communication purpose. Software engineers may also develop software updates which will improve efficiency of the firmware whilst the satellite is in space. Most people that have satellite decoders have seen at times their decoder will ask to update firmware now and again. Knowledge of programming languages is a pre requisite for software engineers. Development of space Apps has been on the rise and occurs over 48 hours around the world. Coders, scientist, designers, storytellers, technologists and everyone enthusiastic come together in address challenges we face on earth and in space. In 2017 187 events were organized across the six continents and 25000 people participated.
Telecommunication engineers design, develop and implement communication subsystem of a satellite. Communication between the satellite in space and the ground station must have secured fidelity of the signal. Telecoms Engineers will be manning the ground station and establish communication between the satellites. They also maintain the ground station to ensure that efficient communication is maintained. Telecommunication engineers choose the type of antennas of the satellite, antennas of the ground station, modulation techniques, data speed and also the time in which communication can be established between ground station and satellite.
Robotics engineers are responsible in the design and development of robotics systems. These systems consist of mechanical, electrical and software that interacts with each other. Space is a harsh environment in which astronauts in carrying out experiments outside the International Space Station during space walks utilizes the aid of robot systems in achieving goals for different mission. Robotics engineers usually have a mechanical, electrical or software engineers. Local universities also offer degree programs with robotics courses.
Space lawyers help government and private organizations in the interpretation of the body laws, treaties and agreements governing outer space. Space Law consists of treaty on principles governing of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, agreement on the rescue of astronauts, the return of astronauts and the return of objects launched into outer space, convection on international liability for damage caused by space objects ,convection on registration of launched into outer space ,agreement governing the activities the activities of states on the moon and other celestial bodies ,principles governing the use by states of artificial satellites for international direct television broadcasting ,principles relating to remote sensing of earth from outer space ..
Space lawyers will be required to help the country on the registration of objects (satellites) the country intends to launch by means of an entry into an appropriate registry. According to liability convection a launching state shall be absolutely liable to pay compensation for damage caused by its space objects on the surface of the Earth or aircraft in flight. This means that if Zimbabwe launches its satellite for example in Russia both countries will be liable if the satellite causes damage on earth.
Space lawyers will also help the Zimbabwe Geo Spatial National agency and private companies in space exploration comply with the existing laws and treaties. Space Lawyers must have an understating of science in order to give their clients enough advice. A few universities around the world are degree program however some universities offer it as a course.
Space Weather scientists
Space Weather scientist study space weather so that they can advise telecommunication engineers factors there need to take into account into in designing communication subsystem. It is important for information from the satellite to be relayed on earth without distortions. Just imagine meteorological satellites which gives us weather forecast the information is distorted before the earth we will lose valuable information which might save lives. Radio waves are scattered, distorted by atmospheric gases, dust particles at certain frequencies hence the need for people to study space weather to ensure the fidelity of the signal is maintained at all times.
Environmental scientist’s study’s changes engineering principles for protection of human population from effects of adverse environmental factors; protection of environment both local and global from potentially deleterious effects of natural and human activities and improvement of environmental quality. Satellites having the ability of revisit period to a pass a certain position at the same local time and when images are analyzed overtime environmental changes can be observed. Environmentalist use satellite images for land use, land cover and fire monitoring.