Ethiopia has joined a handful of African countries that have space observatories and are developing space science seriously. There are several tangible and intangible benefits of space science, not least promoting a scientific culture that can finally break the vicious circle of poverty. James Jeffrey reports from Addis Ababa.
In the Entoto Mountains strewn with eucalyptus forests overlooking the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, stands Ethiopia's first space observatory. It opened officially on 10th December 2014 and another observatory is already planned for construction at Lalibela, home to Ethiopia's famous rock-hewn churches.
"Space science technology is often considered a luxury only for developed countries, but it's actually a basic and vital need for development," says Solomon Belay, director of the Entoto Observatory and Research Centre. "Eventually you can sell the science in areas like consulting and training."
Belay points out how space science technology and research can also be applied to many basic necessities of life such as health, and energy and food security, after which come applications in more advanced areas such as environmental management, urban development and multiple fields of business.
Ethiopia's highland topography --the Entoto Observatory sits at 3,200m--and the ideal climate, which includes thin air and minimal cloud cover most of the year, make it an ideal site from which to observe the stars and galaxies. The Lalibela observatory will be even higher at about 4,200m
The observatory was initiated by the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), founded 10 years ago to address the lack of space science activity and interest in Ethiopia.
At ESSS's inception, "Most Ethiopian politicians were not ready for space science," says Abinet Ezra, communications director for ESSS. Initially, ESSS had to import telescopes from the US until that proved too difficult due to unfavourable foreign exchange rates. Eventually those at ESSS managed to get their message to hit home.
"Ethiopian politicians have recognised the role space science can play in helping Ethiopia's development, and are supporting investment in the country's new observatories and space programme," Ezra says.
The $4m Entoto Observatory houses two i-metre class telescopes, each of which weighs six tonnes and cost about $1,501. About 85% of funds came from Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, a Saudi Arabian-Ethiopian businessman and billionaire who lives in Ethiopia and...