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Rwanda Enters the Space Race

Exciting news out of Africa: Rwanda is establishing a Space Agency!  

Rwanda’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house in its national legislature, voted on the law on March 10th, stating: “[The] establishment of Rwanda Space Agency aims at having coordination of Rwanda’s space sector activities geared towards securing communication, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as purchasing and playing a custodian role of national spatial data and imagery.”   

The Rwanda Space Agency would send Rwandans to the United States and Israel to receive training in able to support Rwanda’s space efforts.   

This is not the first time Rwanda has been involved in the new space economy. They joined 2 satellite missions in 2019, one in partnership with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and another with United Kingdom-based communications company OneWeb.   

With the “liftoff” of RSA, we now have 20 African countries with space institutions and programs. Very exciting stuff.   

Heading north in the international space economy, Airbus has just announced that it has been selected to study spacecraft manufacturing in space by the European Commission.   

In an announcement that came March 11th, Airbus will be part of the Horizon 2020 Programme, and the 3 Million Euro contract will last 2 years.   

This project, coined the PERIOD project, or PERASPERA In-Orbit Demonstration, will focus on the construction of major satellite components, spacecraft component assembly, and satellite payload replacements.   

Airbus will help pioneer the manufacturing of large structures in space and transform the way they are designed. Objects made in space has significant advantages to building on Earth and transporting to space and will be able to circumvent many previous launcher mass and volume limitations.   

Silvio Sandrone, head of Space Exploration future projects at Airbus, stated, “Airbus has been working on in-orbit manufacturing technologies for more than a decade and the PERIOD program will help Europe move its combined technological know-how to the next level… Future large-scale space systems can only be manufactured and assembled in orbit, so it’s crucial that Europe is at the forefront of this key capability.”   

Until we’re able to build large scale spacecraft in orbit, we’ll continue to get creative on land… or water.   

NASA’s James Webb space telescope, or Webb for short, will face a strange threat later this year. With a protective shield the size of a tennis court and a mirror as tall as a 2 story building, Webb is too large to transport on a plane.   

As a result, Webb will need to be transported by ship from Southern California to its launch site in French Guiana. Along the route to South America, the ship will need to pass through the Panama canal as well. A long journey over sea leaves the telescope open to many risks, including pirates.   

Although some playful commentary has surrounded the issue, it’s still a valid concern. NASA has shrouded the trip in secrecy, to maintain an edge ahead of the historic journey.   

Webb has been ongoing for over 20 years, and it would be tragic for something to happen that prevents its late October launch date. Its date of departure will remain under wraps to protect Webb from pirates who may want to hold the irreplaceable craft ransom.   

Although many are eager to hear Webb’s progress and transportation updates, Christopher Conselice, an astrophysicist at the University of Manchester, poses a simple and valid question:   

“Why would you announce that you’re going to be shipping on a certain day something that is worth over $10 billion... that you could easily put in a boat” and sail away with?   

Just as we thought this telescope has faced every problem under the sun, we find one more: pirates.   

We’ll continue to keep tabs on this story, however strange it gets. Subscribe to the Flight Crew newsletter for future updates.

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