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Rwanda and University of Tokyo to Cooperate on Building Cubesat

Representatives of the Rwandan government, University of Tokyo, and Smart Africa Initiative at the signing ceremony. Photograph courtesy of taarifa.rw.

Japan is making further inroads to Africa, helping another African country, Rwanda,  join the space club. The University of Tokyo has signed an agreement with Rwanda to help it build a small satellite and train its future engineers.

The agreement, signed on 9 May 2018 in Rwanda’s capital Kigali during the Transform Africa summit, is between the Smart Africa Initiative and Rwanda, and the University of Tokyo.

Dr. Shinichi Nakasuka, a professor and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the  University of Tokyo, and is a renowned global expert in small satellites. Nine of the satellites he has built are currently in orbit. He explained that the University of Tokyo has chosen Rwanda to begin jointly developing a Cubesat.

“We have been developing a smaller satellite, and we are happy that Rwanda has accepted to partner with us in this journey,” he said, adding, “It is advantageous to us that Rwanda is the headquarters for Smart Africa, and also that the Rwandan government has expressed high intentions for cooperation in space technology.”

Professor Nakasuka explained that the miniature satellites, valued at around U.S.$200,000 each, have the capacity to capture various data, including mobile data, weather conditions, soil conditions, and topographic information in real time.

The agreement with the University of Tokyo also covers the training of space engineers across the continent. According to Smart Africa Initiative’s executive director, Dr. Hamadoun Toure, the organization is allocating funds for scholarships for young Africans interested in space engineering who will train at the University of Tokyo. Six students are expected to begin training this year.

Dr. Ryosuke Shibasaki, also a professor at the University of Tokyo, said that the university is interested in exploring different areas using space data analytics, as well as the kind of infrastructure that can be built in Africa, to capture the data generated by this new breed of smaller satellites.

“We are pleased to work with countries interested in using the data collected all around the world,” he said. “We are happy that Rwanda has come on board.”

According to Dr. Toure, who is also a space engineer, this is the time for Africa to “demystify” the idea that Africa can’t be a vital player in the space sector. “We need to be in space as well,” he said.

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