Is Marsabit County Kenya’s Next Spaceport Hub?

Marsabit County has emerged as the most suitable county in Kenya out of 7 key contenders to set up a Spaceport; other counties are Laikipia, Kilifi, Tana River, Isiolo, Turkana and Narok county.

This is according to a report commissioned by Viwanda Africa Group in collaboration with Longshot Space Technology, and a team of student engineering researchers drawn from Kenyatta and Nairobi universities which examined the viability of establishing a Spaceport in Kenya.

The Kenya Spaceport Research, which drew data from various national and global organizations, as well as guidance from the Kenya Space Agency (KSA), carried out an assessment among all the 47 counties where Marsabit County emerged as the most favorable location to set up a Space Port due to its large tracts of unoccupied, affordable land, sparse population density, low trafficked airspace, generally flat terrain and proximity to the LAPPSET corridor.

Speaking while receiving the report, Kenya Space Agency Acting Director General Col. Hillary B. Kipkosgey says the benefits of establishing a spaceport capable of launching rockets within Kenya are numerous and would positively impact on the growth of the country.

“The development of highly innovative industries such as this provides current and future employment opportunities in many sectors, and the potential for growth in supporting industries. Development of such a spaceport would also foster research, innovation and growth of knowledge within this country, rippling out to Kenya taking the lead globally as a significant player in the space sector,” noted Ag DG Col. Kipkosgey.

Additionally, “The Space sector requires innovative, committed and forward thinking minds; something our young people have in abundance. This is therefore an area Kenya can grow and lead in.

Viwanda Africa CEO Nyambura Kamau noted the interest to carry out the survey in Kenya originated from the geographic advantages the country sits on as a potential launch site: an interest shared by the US based space start-up company Long Shot.

“If you look at a World map you see that Kenya is among 6 or 7 countries in the world with ideal placement for a space launch. After researching Kenya and paying a visit to Nairobi, I discovered a further advantage the nation has which may make it unique in the world; its people,” noted Longshot Space Technology CEO Mike Grace

Kenya is located in a geographically advantageous position due to its lateral coordinates. Its location on the equator provides a space vehicle being launched from Kenya with a “speed boost” equivalent to an additional speed of 1,650 km/h, due to the earth’s rotation. This allows the launch vehicle to save energy and carry heavier payloads into space.

Kenyatta University Chairperson, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Eng. Victor M. Mwongera, Principle investigator and aerospace engineer said the report provides a strong initial examination on the viability of establishing a spaceport in Kenya.

The report examines the benefits of establishing the spaceport, the ideal location, the considerations that must be made, its commercial viability as well as how the private and public sector should work together to make it a reality.  The case made here shows that establishment of the spaceport is not only a viable idea, but something that we as a nation should aim to pursue”, said Dr Mwongera.

According to the report, it’s estimated that the initial stage of the Spaceport construction will cost Kshs 5 billion, Kshs 7 billion annual operational costs and revenue of Kshs 1 billion per launch with an estimate of 5 launches within the first year of construction and an exponential rise to 60 launches by the10th year of operation

Research was conducted on the physical, economic, environmental, social, political and cultural factors that would be considered for the establishment of a spaceport.

A decision matrix was then used to analyze the 47 counties in Kenya based on the primary factors which affect the location of a spaceport (availability of land and population density) for the purpose of narrowing down to a select 7 counties for further analysis.

A PESTEL and SWOT analysis was then conducted on the 7 counties, and a second decision matrix conducted on them. Based on these analyses, Marsabit County was identified as the ideal location for a spaceport.

Marsabit is sparsely populated, has readily available, vast arid lands, and connectivity to the LAPSSET transport corridor. The sparse population in Marsabit makes it easier to launch vehicles to space without huge disruption to normal air traffic.

However, there may be a need to construct additional supporting infrastructure such as roads, boreholes and solar farms, the report indicated.