(The Economist)―Why Ethiopia is building a space program? And why critics think it an odd use of scarce resources?

The ancient holy town of Lalibela, perched some 2,500 meters above sea-level in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, boasts some of the clearest night skies imaginable. Ethiopian stargazers dream that the mountains around Lalibela may one day host a world-class observatory to rival the big ones in Chile and Hawaii. And in time Ethiopia hopes to do more than just gaze at the stars. It would like to launch its own satellites, too.

In January the government said it would launch a Chinese-built civilian satellite from an overseas rocket pad within the next five years. It would be designed to Ethiopian specifications and used to monitor crops and the weather, and doubtless to spy on neighbors, too. The government also wants to reduce reliance on foreign telecoms by launching its own communications satellite.

In putting its own satellites into orbit Ethiopia would join the select club of African nations that have already done so. Nigeria has paid for the launch of five since 2003, some of which it says have helped fight terrorism. South Africa has also put several home-built satellites into space. Egypt launched two earth-observation ones, both of which have since failed; a private company, Nilesat, successfully operates communications ones. Kenya, Angola and Ghana are eager to join them.

Being able to beam communications or take photos from space offers some economic benefits. Ethiopia’s government hopes that mapping the country to help resolve land disputes, for instance, could boost agricultural productivity.

Continue reading this story on The Economist
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