Addis Ababa: After South Africa and Nigeria, Ethiopia is becoming a hub of Africa`s aspirations in space with the East African nation`s finalising the installation of two huge deep-space observatory telescopes to promote space research in the region, a prelude to its developing a space mission by launching its own satellites.
"The two telescopes with their telecommunications technology allowing remote internet-controlled operations mark the first steps of Ethiopia`s future space ambitions," says Solomon Belay, director of Entoto Space and Astronomical Observatory Centre.
The Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), which has been installing the two telescopes, each of one-metre diameter, at an elevated point over 20 km from the capital Addis Ababa, is at the forefront of this programme. Over the next three to five years, the ESS plans to launch three satellites in space joining South Africa and Nigeria as the third African country with a space mission.
Ethiopia is not the first African nation to look to the skies. South Africa has its own National Space Agency and, in 2009, the African Union announced plans to establish The African Space Agency. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, has also called for a continent-wide space programme.
The physical installation of the telescopes and accessories bought from the German technologies company, Astelco Systems, for 3.4 million dollars, was finalised Oct 27. All that remains now is the caballing and linking of the telescopes to computers and other control systems, according to Solomon Belay, director of Entoto Space and Astronomical Observatory Centre.
"The facility will primarily be used by students and researchers to observe astronomical objects," Belay said.
Most of the money for the Entoto construction and equipment is coming from its foundation that relies on the contributions of its over 1,800 individual members, including Sheikh Mohammed Hussein al Amoudi, a Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire businessman, who is the richest man in the country and is ranked by Forbes as the world`s 65th richest person.
"Once we establish this facility and create postgraduate programmes in space sciences, our students will be able to go anywhere and participate in international satellite communication missions. They will acquire good skills and can work to benefit other types of technology too, like telecommunications," Tulu Besha, head of earth observation with the Entoto Space and Astronomical Observatory Centre, told a group of journalists invited to witness the installation of huge metal domes that would house the telescopes.
Located away from the bustling city of Addis Ababa at a vantage point of 3,200 metres above sea level on the lush Entoto plateau with clear sky, no building and other objects blocking the view of outer space, construction of the Entoto facility began in 2008.
The facility also houses two buildings, a few hundred metres away from the telescopes, meant to house the main laboratories, dormitories and guest houses for researchers. Installation of equipment is also under way.
ESSS is also planning to set up a second bigger observatory near the town of Lallibela in northern Ethiopia, on a higher point of 4,200 metres above sea level.
One of the satellites will be used for military and security purposes and the second for telecommunications while the third will serve earth observatory programmes to support the country`s agriculture sector by providing more accurate information on meteorological and climate change trends, according to these sources.
The Ethiopian government funds the telescope project indirectly via 32 public universities that will run the observatory. It also provides some of the necessary infrastructure, including roads, electricity and internet connectivity.