Egypt Wishes to Join the "Space Club"

As the Egyptian President is working towards signing a deal with Thales Alenia Space to purchase an observation satellite and a military telecommunications satellite, Dr. Shaul Shay offers a review of the Egyptian space program. Will Egypt join Israel in the "Space Club"?

A satellite dish stands damaged after at least two rocket propelled grenades slammed into a compound housing the country's main satellite earth station in the Maadi district of Cairo, Oct. 7, 2013 (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is working towards signing a deal with Thales Alenia Space (TAS) to purchase an observation satellite and a military telecommunications satellite. The contract amounts to approximately one billion euros for the two satellites.

Brig. Gen. Mohamed Saeed El-Assar, minister of military production, arrived in Paris on December 16, 2015, and is expected to return to Cairo with an outline of the deal. Although there are a number of steps that need to be taken before the two countries reach an agreement (such as determining the orbital position of the satellites), a contract could be signed by the end of this year or early in 2016.

The Russian Sputnik agency reported in April 2015 that Egypt aims to develop its space program and Russia could be a strategic partner to establish a specialized space agency in Egypt. President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi also signed in February 2015 a memorandum of understanding in the space field with his counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Egypt plans to launch its first radar satellite by 2020. An international tender would be published; to choose a foreign partner to help launch the satellite, according to an official in the Egyptian Space Program.

Egypt has been busy with a complex ambitious space initiative to join the "space club". Many countries want to be members of the "space club", but only few have the real ability to join it. Currently, Israel is one of the countries capable of building their own satellites, launching them from their territory and maneuvering them in space.

The Egyptian satellite program has both scientific and military implications, and is run under the National Authority for Remote Sensing & Space Sciences (NARSS).

The National Authority for Remote Sensing & Space Sciences of Egypt defined the Egypt Space Program vision:

(a)  Egypt to join the Space age through gradual manufacturing of small research and remote sensing satellites, acquiring technological knowledge and capabilities, and building required infrastructure to achieve self-capability for Egypt to design & manufactures its own small satellites.

(b) Utilizing the space technologies & application to develop the scientific research and technologies development in Egypt and to serve the national developments plans.

(c)  Establishing a scientific and research base for advanced industries in Egypt.

Egypt’s first space program was initiated in 1960 and was subsequently shelved numerous times until its first independent budget was adopted in 2000 to fund space research, following the launch of the country’s first satellite NileSat 101 in 1998.

The EgyptSat-1

In 2007, the Egyptian government made its first attempt to acquire its own high-resolution surveillance satellite with the launch of the Egyptsat-1 spacecraft built in Ukraine.

The first satellite EgyptSat-1 was launched from Baikonur on April 17, 2007. However, the contact with it was lost in 2010. Mubarak’s government kept the scientific setback secret for three months, before details leaked out. Egyptian specialists claimed then that this was an experimental project with an expected satellite’s service life of no more than three years.

The EgyptSat-1 was capable of photographing sites on earth and its launch came after Egypt awarded a tender to Ukraine to construct the satellite. Under the agreement, 60 Egyptian scientists were trained by Ukraine, with the aim of Egypt developing the capability to operate the satellite independently.

Although Egypt apparently continued working with the Ukrainian KB Yuzhnoe design bureau on a follow-on project, Cairo received a bid from Moscow to supply a state-of-the-art "eye in the sky". In 2009, after around four years of negotiations, Egypt awarded a contract to Russia for the development of a high-resolution imaging satellite.

In Moscow, the project was officially handled by Rosoboroneksport, a government-owned company specialized in exports of military technology. However, the actual development of the spacecraft was delegated to RKK Energia based in Korolev near Moscow and renown around the world for its leading role in the nation's manned space flight. RKK Energia's imaging satellite was originally known as E-Star, but it was eventually re-christened Egyptsat-2.

The development of the satellite coincided with a major political upheaval in Egypt; however, the nation's military clearly managed to fully fund the project.

EgyptSat-2

A Soyuz-U rocket carrying an Egyptian observation satellite, EgyptSat-2, was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on, April 16, 2014. The Russian Soyuz-U rocket was launched from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in what was expected to be the last launch of this variant of Soyuz.

The 300 million Egyptian pounds (nearly 43 million US dollars), EgyptSat 2, is owned by Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences. The satellite is expected to have an operational lifetime of 11 years.                                                                     

Russia also apparently trained Egyptian engineers to control the satellite from a ground station near Cairo. The Moscow-based NPK BARL concern announced the completion of the center in October 2011.

The Russian-built Egyptsat-2 satellite was designed to provide high-resolution imagery for the Egyptian military and other government agencies in the country. The development and launch campaign for Egyptsat-2 has been conducted largely in secret. Only one visual of the operational spacecraft was released to the public by its manufacturer RKK Energia, after the successful launch.

RKK Energia based the E-Star/Egyptsat-2 design on its latest concept of an imaging satellite designated 559GK. The satellite was reportedly equipped with electric engines using xenon gas as propellant to enter its operational orbit and to conduct orbit corrections.

In its overall architecture, the 559GK satellite appeared similar to the latest-generation Earth-watching satellites developed in the West.

According to its official specifications, the one-ton 559GK satellite could discern details as small as one meter on the Earth's surface. In addition to regular photos, the satellite's optics could produce infrared imagery. The optical imager supports various modes of operation including single-scene imaging, route imaging, mapping, and stereo imagery acquisition.

RKK Energia said that the satellite's camera could snap individual images as well as stereo pairs, conduct continuous shooting along its flight path and function in a cartographic mode. According to the company, the spacecraft promised to double the resolution capabilities of existing Russian satellites and hinted at some new techniques in electronic processing of imagery.

RKK Energia sub-contracted the development of the satellite's powerful optics and its data downlink system to OAO Peleng and NIRUP Geoinformatsionnye Sistemy in Belarus. The European consortium EADS Astrium (currently Airbus) was also involved in the payload development.

Egypt highlighted the civilian aspects of the satellite claiming that it serves all the development fields in Egypt including Agriculture, Industry, Mineral, Planning, environment fields and it is possible to support the development projects in Arab region and Africa. Egypt Presidential Adviser for Scientific Affairs Essam Hegy said that new Egyptian Satellite is an essential step towards establishing the Egyptian Space Agency.

According to the cabinet spokesman Hossam El-Qawish, the new satellite EgySat-2 aims to support Egypt's "presence in space" and to increase new investment opportunities and enhance developmental project in the Arab region. The launch is also being used to establish the presence of Egyptian scientists and researchers in outer space, he added during a press conference held at the cabinet's headquarters in Cairo.

In April 2015, rumors surfaced on the Internet that the EgyptSat-2 either completely failed in orbit or experienced attitude control problems. There were no official confirmation or denial from the official sources.

Conclusions

Egypt currently owns the EgyptSat-2 and two communication satellites, NileSat 1 and NileSat 2, which provide broadcasting services for the country.

Egypt highlighted the civilian aspects of the satellite but the EgyptSat-2 satellite designed to provide high-resolution imagery for the Egyptian military and other government agencies in the country.

The Egyptians hope to eventually construct another satellite, EgyptSat 3, on their own, and launch it by 2017 with financial assistance from China.The satellite is supposed to be comprised of 60% Egyptian-made components.

Launching EgyptSat-2 comes after a single week from the launching of Ofeq 1 reconnaissance satellite of Israel, which went into orbit aboard a national Shavit rocket of Israel Aerospace Industries, from the Israeli Air Force’s Palmachim Airbase. Ofeq 10 is the last satellite of a series of reconnaissance satellites operated by Israel.

Egyptian fears concerning the effects of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s water security is also a primary motivator behind the satellites. Studying the effects of the Renaissance Dam on Egypt is the most important issue for the Authority for Remote Sensing right now.

Countries around the world want to be members of the "space club", but few have the real ability to join it, and only about 10 countries (among them Israel and Iran) are capable of building their own satellites, launching them from their territories, and manoeuvring them in space.

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