This afternoon, Italian President Sergio Mattarella will land in Nairobi, Kenya, for his fifth mission in Sub-Saharan Africa. The four-day institutional visit, from 13 to 16 March, will be the opportunity to discuss topics as stability and security in the area and the fight against climate change. Relevant visits for Italy-Kenya scientific cooperation are also scheduled, namely at the “Luigi Broglio” Space Center (BSC) next Wednesday, where Mattarella will be received by the President of the Italian Space Agency Giorgio Saccoccia, the Kenyan Minister of Defence Aden Bare Duale and the President of the Kenya Space Agency (KSA) General James Aruasa, and, next Thursday, at the University of Nairobi.
The first institutional visit of the President to the BSC, remarks the relevance of the long-standing cooperation in the space sector between Italy and Kenya, which started in the early Sixties with the establishment, through an Exchange of Notes signed in 1964 between the Governments of the two countries, of the San Marco-Malindi launch and tracking station, today renamed BSC, an Italian launching facility located in Malindi, Kenya. Due to its equatorial location on the Indian Ocean coast, the base has been an ideal site for both the launch and ground control of satellites.
The facility is composed of a maritime segment, which comprises two platforms anchored to the seabed, and a ground segment, hosting antennas and other equipment for satellite tracking and monitoring. The first launch from the base was performed in 1967 when the San Marco 2 satellite was successfully placed in an elliptical equatorial orbit onboard a Scout vehicle. Thenceforth, the San Marco-Malindi base was made available to all the States willing to launch their own satellites, since the aim of the San Marco Project was not only to provide Italy with its own launch facility, but also contribute to the strengthening of international cooperation in space activities.
Since 1967, twenty-three satellites have been launched therefrom, including four Italian ones, and space missions of various international agencies, as well as the acquisition of satellite data, have been performed. Launching activities stopped in 1988 but the Centre continued to reliably provide ground services to space missions.
The Centre has been managed until 2003 by Sapienza University of Rome and then by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The base has been also included in the European Space Agency’s network of tracking stations (ESTRACK).
The current operation of the Base is governed by an intergovernmental agreement (Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Kenya and the Government of the Italian Republic on the Luigi Broglio – Malindi Space Centre, Kenya), concluded between Italy and Kenya in 2016. Through the Agreement, the Parties committed to cooperate in the use of the Broglio Space Centre “for peaceful uses only”, for the activities identified in Article II, including Earth Observation (EO), space science and technology, satellite data acquisition, tracking and telemetry, and education and training. Besides establishing a system of joint management of the Centre, with personnel from both countries, the Agreement also contains detailed provisions on a number of areas of cooperation. These provisions are broadened and further detailed in the five implementing arrangements forming part of the Agreement, which deal with access to EO data, telemedicine, support to the KSA, the establishment of a regional Centre for EO, education and training.
In the framework of Italy-Kenya space cooperation, the ASI concluded a Framework Agreement with Sapienza University of Rome following which the former undertakes to engage the latter on issues of common interest, including space law; higher education programmes for Kenyan universities; Radar systems and sensor development for space science applications; Orbital acquisition of satellites; Participation in launcher tracking campaigns; Space propulsion and micro satellites; Telemedicine; Study and control of space debris and re-entry techniques; Satellite remote sensing for environmental studies.
In this regard, the entities involved implement capacity-building initiatives in the scientific, engineering, and legal fields.
On the engineering side, through the “Italy-Kenya University Nano-Satellite (IKUNS) programme” established in September 2015, Italy transferred technology and built capacity in satellite manufacturing in Kenya, based on the long tradition in university nanosatellites at Sapienza, dating back to the San Marco programme. The mentioned Project enabled Kenya to manufacture three CubeSats, launched into orbit in 2017, 2018 and 2021 respectively. Sapienza University and the University of Nairobi also established a joint Postgraduate Course in “Space Mission Design and Management”.
With regard to space law and policy, through Project OSL – Outer Space Law for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development, Italy fosters capacity-building in three areas: legal instruments of international cooperation for space activities, especially those between Italy and Kenya; legal and institutional aspects related to the governance of space activities in Italy and Kenya; the legal regime of new space activities, including small satellites.
In conclusion, while the Broglio Space Centre has been the means whereby space cooperation between Italy and Kenya was established, then this extended to activities that are not necessarily connected with the polygon, but functional to the development of the Kenyan space sector, including capacity-building initiatives and the consolidation of expertise in the sector. The institutional visit of Mattarella to Kenya will further scientific initiatives between the two countries.
Watch the video of the visit on asitv.it