Sudan - aerospace

Sudan launches first satellite, with China’s help

Sudan launched its first satellite earlier this month from Taiyuan Satellite Launch centre in Shanxi province, China, according to Space in Africa, a company dedicated to market analysis and news following African technological advancements. The remote sensing satellite, designed and launched by China for Sudan, was designed to be used over Sudan.

An image from the US Landsat 7 satellite, showing cotton fields in between the White Nile (l) and Blue Nile (r) outside of Khartoum. Sudan will soon produce their own satellite images
An image from the US Landsat 7 satellite, showing cotton fields in between the White Nile (l) and Blue Nile (r) outside of Khartoum. Sudan will soon produce their own satellite images Wikimedia Commons/USGS

Sudan “hopes to use the satellite for military and civil applications,” said Temidayo Oniosun, the managing director of the Lagos-based Africa in Space site. He told RFI he was not at liberty to discuss its military capabilities.

Surveillance capabilities

The capabilities of remote sensing satellites are vast, according to Dr Sun Kwok, astronomer and professor emeritus of the University of Hong Kong.

“Many remote satellites can do non-stop time, a continuous surveillance of what’s going on the ground at quite a high angle of resolution nowadays,” he said.

Not only is Sudan’s first satellite significant, but the fact that China designed and launched it into space from Taiyuan Satellite Launch centre in Shanxi province. The Shenzhen Aerospace Oriental Red Sea Satellite Company developed the satellite for the Sudanese government.

According to David Kiwuwa, professor of international studies at the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo campus in China, the country has been courting a number of countries as clients.

“China has been trying to get into the space satellite launch business from a commercial perspective, especially civilian use, moving away from military use,” he said.

The Sudan satellite is slated to cover monitoring for the whole country, said Africa in Space’s Oninsun.

For Yaser Zeidan, a security and policy researcher at Sudanese think tank Institute of Tomorrow, he said he does not believe that the military will use the remote sensing satellite in any of the restive areas, including Blue Nile state and Darfur, especially after the ceasefire was recently renewed.

“One of the main priorities for their revolution is to achieve peace all over Sudan, so I don’t think the military would ever use it for any offensive attacks during this period,” said Zeidan, also an international affairs lecturer at Sudan’s National University in Khartoum.

“And I think the military will abide with that,” he added.

The Sudan Revolution over the past year resulted in a new civilian-military government and the overthrow of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir. While people are cautiously hopeful of the power-sharing government, others are worried about the far-reaching Sudanese military.

Agriculture monitoring and more

One of underlying origins of the Darfur conflict and genocide is the issue of environmental degradation.

This satellite will officially be used for agricultural monitoring, which should help the food security situation overall, said China-based Kiwuwa.

“Sudan has had a prolonged drought in the last couple of years, so food security has been impacted by changing weather patterns, and the economic crisis they’ve been suffering for the last couple of years has not made things easier,” Kiwuwa told RFI.

“It makes sense to pay attention to our agricultural industry, and in particular the changes in these weather patterns should be facilitated by sophisticated mapping,” he added.

Zeidan said that using the satellite for tracking might not be such a bad idea, serving agriculture and security.

“Tribes move around for grass and green lands and I think intelligence gathering would help very much in trying to track the movement of tribes around and in some areas it could track also human traffickers,” Zeidan said.

“It could track terrorist groups because Sudan has very wide borders… with this kind of sophisticated technology, you can always keep track of what's going on, on the borders. This is one of the security challenges that Sudan is facing now, given the rise of trafficking people through the Mediterranean or terrorist groups that has been very active in the in the desert in Sinai or in Somalia. These are positive uses of this kind of intelligence gathering,” he added.

Satellites have proved to have knock-on benefits on the African continent, according to Dr Lawal Salami Lasisi, head of the navigation services department of the Nigerian Communications Satellite company in Abuja.

He said that satellite technology has improved Nigeria, especially in terms of education and healthcare delivery to the rural areas of the country.

“This is made possible with the power of communications, especially in places where there is no terrestrial communication infrastructure,” said Lasisi.

The satellite launch was low key in the Sudanese press, said Zeidan, which he felt was unfortunate.

“I feel very proud that now it’s a reality that Sudan has a satellite in space,” he said.

The future of Sudan’s ambitious aerospace, aviation and telecommunication programme includes a Sudanese-designed SUDASAT-1 communication satellite that is slated to be launched in the next year.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app