UK Space Agency tackles African flight safety and maternal health (Wired UK)


Just 3 percent of global air traffic in 2013 passed over Africa.
Yet according to the Flight Safety Foundation, that same year Africa also suffered
20 percent of worldwide air accidents. The ratio is shocking, and
now a partnership between London-based satellite company Avanti
Communications and agencies in South Africa, Ghana and Senegal is
attempting to reverse the trend.

The project, SBAS Africa, is one of seven to receive funding from the UK Space Agency as part of its
International Partnership Space Programme
, a £32m scheme
designed to build British partnerships with countries lacking space
technology. When the programme launched in November last year, the
UK Space Agency said the focus would be on bringing “societal or
economic benefits” to nations lacking the satellite technology that
could improve their own infrastructure. The aims of all seven
projects represent an impressive start to the first sprint of the
two-year-long programme, covering everything from rural paediatric
care, teaching, banking, disaster management and agricultural


“These new international partnerships not only illustrate the
breadth of UK expertise in space technology but prove that
international collaboration can provide many new business
opportunities for our highly skilled space companies whilst
supporting vital areas of space activity such as Earth observation
and telecommunications,” said David Parker, chief executive of the
UK Space Agency.

The UK space sector has always had a diverse, entrepreneurial
spirit, operating on a relative shoestring budget when compared to
Nasa ($17.5 billion), the European
Space Agency
 (4.4 billion) and
Roscomos (£4.8 billion). While these agencies have historically
invested in the drama of manned space travel, the British have
chosen an leaner, ‘startup’-style approach, investing mainly in
commercial satellite ventures. This week’s announcement shows how
that approach can deliver benefits globally.

Here are a few highlights:

Aviation accidents

Aside from reducing the human cost of Africa’s poor flight
safety record, Avanti estimates that improvements brought about by
its SBAS Africa project could one day bring €1.7bn in economic
benefit to the continent’s industry. The tech itself is based on
the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, which uses a
satellite to deliver data on the reliability of GPS. Data procured
from the satellite using a SBAS receiver, narrows down location
accuracy to within 1.5 metres, the company claims. It’s the basis
of technology most of the globe already relies on for landing
aircraft, delivered in a cost efficient way using Avanti’s ARTEMIS
L1 Navigation transponder. There is a wider plan to extend the tech
across the whole continent, but this project will help kick off the

Maternal healthcare

Inmarsat launched its Alphasat satellite into orbit in 2013 to
provide connectivity across the whole of the African continent.
It’s this satellite that will be used in the £10m I-Sat Connection
project, part-funded by the UK Space Agency. 

“We will empower local communities with targeted content for
education, healthcare, agricultural and other key resources,” head
of government Affairs, James Cemmell, told It is also
partnering with US non-profit MAMA to deliver maternal and child
health services in 50 rural locations in Nigeria. MAMA helps
deliver targeted information to mobile devices for expectant
mothers and caregivers. “Inmarsat has worked in Africa since its
inception. African countries were signatories to the Inmarsat
convention and we have had land deployments supporting everything
from voter registration ahead of the DRC election, through to
community health worker response in the Ebola crisis, and enabling
pension payments in South Africa,” said Cemmell.

Emergency data

Clyde Space International has been working with US company
Outernet on a project to make access to the internet free and
boundless across the globe. For now, the intention is to focus on
ensuring vital data is sent to remote regions using a constellation
of lowcost cubesats, each just 10cm long on each side. Clyde Space
International’s John Charlick explains the plan is to get “critical
information, such as flood and other disaster warnings, and items
such as news feeds, Wiki pages and short educational videos, for
example maths lectures or advice on farming methods” into the hands
of people who need it, as soon as an emergency hits.

The satellites, of which there will eventually be 200, will sit
in low-Earth orbit and send a continuous stream of information back
to Earth. To ensure the latter is not an obstacle to the plan,
Outernet, based in New York, is also working on a receiver called
“Lantern”. The device will be able to translate the raw data into
files that can then be accessed by anything from a tablet to a
Raspberry Pi. “Part of the drive behind using cubesats is to allow
use of low cost receivers which users can build themselves,” says

Kazakh farming

A spinout of the University of Surrey, Surrey Satellite
Technology (SSTL) has been focussing on reducing the cost of
satellite technology for nearly three decades. It has designed and
launched around 40 satellites, and is building 22 more for Europe’s
Galileo global navigation fleet. The satellite it is building for
the KazSTSAT project, in conjunction with local image processing
company Ghalam LLP, will weigh just 70kg and be loaded with a
22-metre imager. SSTL will provide Ghalam LLP with data from
another of its satellites so they can practice analysing the
data. “We currently have a number of Kazakh engineers
based here, working alongside SSTL engineers on this mission,” a
spokesperson for the KazSTSAT project told

“It’s an optical camera that can distinguish different
wavelengths of light, near infrared and not-infrared, so you can do
different things with the data,” SSTL’s Steve Young tells“Near infrared is very good for looking at the
chlorophyll in plants — you can differentiate different types of
plants or how healthy they are for precision agriculture.
Everything from helping the local farmers in what they are growing
and where they need to use fertiliser, or government in how much
food they are going to produce.”

The Kazakh government is likely to use it for other
purposes, including urban planning. “You can look at big areas and
see where roads go, or bridges. You can also very quickly get an
accurate picture of how things are developing and growing.” The
satellites can also capture much-needed footage of post-natural
disaster landscapes, which will be passed to aid agencies around
the globe free of charge. 
A 2016 launch is

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27 March 2015 | 10:42 am – Source:


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