Thank you so much for having me here today.
It is an honor to be here at COSTECH and to have the opportunity to speak with you. This is my first time visiting Tanzania, so it is a real pleasure to be with you today.
I’m also particularly pleased to be here in following the conclusion of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. As you know, last month, President Obama welcomed leaders from across this continent to Washington for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first such event of its kind. The President also welcomed outstanding young African leaders who had been participating in the Young African Leaders Initiatives.
These meetings built on the President’s visit to Africa in the summer of 2013 and helped strengthen ties between the United States and one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing regions.
The theme of the Summit was “Investing in the Next Generation.” I’m here today to continue to discuss that theme and to once again underscore the importance of U.S.-Africa cooperation.
Specifically, I would like to talk to you about the importance of space to African nations and our work of ensuring the long-term sustainability of the outer space environment.
It is critical that we work together to preserve and protect outer space for the next generation so countries like Tanzania can continue to utilize space applications for sustainable development on Earth.
Why Space Matters to Africa
Outer space and space assets – like satellites – provide value to countries and peoples around the world. Space systems provide tremendous benefits to the health and development of African nations, even those without space programs or satellites. As you know, space has real benefits for countries like Tanzania as well as all of Africa.
First, space is about connecting people.
Navigation satellite systems and satellite communications help us navigate the globe and connect and communicate with people around the world. Mobile phones, GPS, and television broadcasts all rely on space systems to connect us to distant places and people. For example, if you’ve ever used a cell phone in a remote area, you may have used a satellite to connect your call.
Second, space is about health.
Many countries in Africa and around the world suffer shortages of doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, and facilities. Recently, many nations have been turning to space systems to help deal with this issue. For example, the European Space Agency, through the “Satellite African eHealth validation” program, is providing telemedicine services through satellite technology. This program connects remote regions in Sub-Saharan Africa with hospitals in larger cities for medical services and education.
Third, space is about education.
Space assets can be utilized to provide access to all levels of education to students that might not otherwise have access. African nations are working with other nations around the world to provide a variety of tele-education services by connecting leading African and foreign universities to remote classrooms.
Fourth, space is about collecting critical information.
African nations utilize Earth observation data for a variety of activities, including disaster monitoring and resource management. For example, Kenya hosts a UN Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) which utilizes data from American Earth observation satellites to respond to requests from member States for crop monitoring, water conditions, and disaster warning. The RCMRD also hosts the East Africa node of the SERVIR program, a joint venture between NASA and USAID which provides satellite-based Earth observation data and science applications to help developing nations improve their environmental decision making.
Fifth, like the goal of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit said, space is about investing in the next generation.
Active space sciences and astronomy programs also can encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math studies. As a part of the NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge, the Agency is currently discussing opportunities for the government of South Africa to contribute to the global search for hazardous Near-Earth Objects as a means of boosting South Africa’s focus on human capital development.
Sixth, space is about growth and development here on Earth.
Space technology and its applications, such as Earth observation systems, meteorological satellites, communication satellites and global navigation systems make significant contributions to achieving sustainable development in Africa.
In fact, during the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012, delegations from around the world specifically recognized the importance of space-technology-based data and reliable geospatial information for sustainable development and recognized the need to support developing countries in their efforts to collect environmental data.
Space technology can be useful for nations with rapidly growing populations. In India, the government uses satellite imagery to help with city planning, especially those cities undergoing massive demographic changes.
Many people around the world are also using space assets to help with forest management. Satellite companies and foreign governments are making satellite imagery available to other governments and NGOs so that they can more effectively track changes and monitor land use.
Additionally, commercial ventures, relying on emerging small and microsatellite technologies, offer the potential for even wider access to critical earth observation information.
The use of space technology benefits Africa and its peoples in various ways. Space applications offer effective tools for connecting people around the world, monitoring and conducting assessments of the environment, managing the use of natural resources, managing responses to natural disasters and providing education and health services in remote areas.
How Africa Can Work Together on Space
These and countless other examples make clear that space is critical to the developing countries, including those in Africa. The number of African nations with their own space agencies and/or satellites continues to grow. African nations are more reliant on space applications than ever before to ensure their sustainable development. However, in order to continue utilizing these essential space applications, we need to preserve the outer space environment.
The long-term sustainability of space activities is at serious risk from space debris and from irresponsible actors and their actions. This summer, that risk became even clearer. On July 23, the Chinese Government conducted a non-destructive test of a missile designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. Despite China’s claims that this was not an anti-satellite weapon, or ASAT, test, let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment. That event was indeed an ASAT test.
Irresponsible acts against space systems do not just harm the space environment, but they also disrupt services that the citizens, companies, and governments around the world depend on. Ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment is in the vital interests of the United States, African nations, and the entire global community.
As African nations benefit more and more from space, and many begin to own satellites, it’s our hope that African nations will play an active role in developing international “best practices” of responsible behavior, such as discussions on the draft International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.
Threats to Outer Space
The utilization of space for sustainable development is not unique to Africa; nations and peoples around the globe now recognize the benefits that space applications have to offer. Today, approximately 60 nations, international organizations, and government consortia operate satellites. There are also numerous commercial and academic satellite operators.
This evolution in the use of outer space has greatly benefited society and has brought people around the world closer together, but it also presents challenges. As more countries and people benefit from space applications and the demand for satellite use has grown, the orbital environment has become increasingly congested.
Today, the orbits close to Earth, where most of our operations are conducted, are increasingly littered with debris. The U.S. is currently tracking tens of thousands of pieces of space debris 10 centimeters or larger in various Earth orbits. Experts warn that the current quantity and density of man-made debris significantly increases the odds of future damaging collisions. I strongly believe it is in our individual and collective interest that all spacefaring nations work to maintain the sustainability of the space environment, so that we can continue to reap the developmental benefits that space provides here on Earth.
Code of Conduct
Perhaps one of the most beneficial actions we can take for ensuring sustainability and security in space would be adopting of an International Code of Conduct. The United States is working with the European Union and other nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.
An International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space by establishing guidelines to reduce the risks of debris-generating events, including collisions. As more countries field space capabilities, it is in all of our interests to work together to establish internationally accepted “rules of the road” to ensure that the safety and sustainability of space is protected. We strongly encourage all African nations to participate in the development of the International Code of Conduct and rules of responsible behavior in space.
When President Obama addressed the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, he said this:
“I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – partners with America on behalf of the future we want for all of our children.”
Space plays a major role in facilitating those connections, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be with you today to discuss the benefits of space and how we can utilize its power to strengthen the future for generations to come.
Thank you very much.