Space 2.0: Developing nations lead the race for the final frontier
Scientific breakthroughs by Asian and African nations have helped democratise space exploration through cooperation, not competition.
Space exploration is no longer the exclusive domain of superpowers. It has always been a global commons, and this global commons is currently being explored by other developing countries with the potential to change the nature of outer space.
The democratisation of space exploration is now in full swing as developing nations in Asia and Africa improve their space capabilities through bilateral agreements. India, Pakistan, Türkiye, and Central Asian Turkic states are investing in space-related technologies, collaborating on space initiatives, and even constructing launch facilities.
Africa is diving headlong into the space race. The main driving force behind African states’ participation is the attainment of socioeconomic and environmental objectives. While with assistance from the US and China, African governments are advancing their space capabilities and moving toward becoming less dependent on foreign tech.
Egypt built an entire satellite manufacturing, installation, and testing facility with Chinese assistance, laying the groundwork for the nation’s aerospace industry. Sudan has successfully launched its first satellite for a scientific experiment, and Algeria is getting ready to launch its first commercial satellite. China has also expanded its BeiDou positioning system’s global service capability by establishing the first overseas BeiDou centre in Tunisia. South Africa and Algeria are constructing stations with a similar appearance.
However, Nigeria and Rwanda were the first African nations to ratify the Artemis Accords. The US government signed this agreement with the support of 23 other countries in order to promote peaceful space exploration. The US-based commercial enterprise SpaceX helped South Africa launch its satellite using a Falcon 9 rocket.
On January 30, 2023, African countries established their own African Space Agency to advance space exploration on the continent. The organisation will act as the hub for upcoming collaborations between African space agencies. African space policy coordination and implementation are the fundamental duties of this space agency.
Central Asian Turkic states are connected and conscious of the awe of being in space because they were a part of the old Soviet Union. In order to grow in the space industry, three nations — Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan — each have their own space agencies and privately-owned firms. These three nations own eleven functioning satellites.
Kazakhstan is the most technologically advanced of all. It has successfully developed nanosatellites and is ready to offer this service to other countries. For example, Kazakhstan is collaborating with Mongolia and Uzbekistan to develop an orbital fleet. In addition to advancing space-based technology, Kazakhstan actively supports international cooperation.
Meanwhile, Türkiye plays an active role due to its rapid collaboration with international space agencies to launch and develop its own satellites. The Turkish government’s most recent success is tied to space-based technologies, including the Turkish GPS, improvements in computer cameras, four satellite launch sites, and the high-resolution Gokturk 3 satellites.
The Turkish Space Agency (TUA) has created a ten-year strategy plan with ten objectives for entering the space race. These objectives include sending the first Turk to space, establishing the first observational satellite, and reaching the moon. The most critical goal is to create a regional positioning and timing system.
Türkiye has signed numerous bilateral agreements with other developing nations. The Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) of Pakistan and the Turkish Aerospace Industry have inked a collaboration agreement to develop satellite and space projects. In addition to signing a memorandum of understanding on space and satellite systems with El Salvador, Türkiye signed its first satellite export contract with an Argentinian company. On the peaceful use of space, space science, technology, and its applications, Türkiye and the UAE have also signed a document.
Along with partnering with state actors, Türkiye has collaborated with private enterprises like SpaceX to produce rockets and other space exploration technology. SpaceX launched the Turksat 5A satellite in 2021. Türkiye’s first mini satellite, Grizu-263A, created by the Grizu-263 Space Team of Bulent Ecevit University in Zonguldak province, was also launched in 2022 on a Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX. In order to train and provide flight service for Turkish space travellers, the Turkish government has inked an agreement with Axiom Space, a US-based commercial space infrastructure corporation that conducts private journeys to the International Space Station.
Looking towards South Asia, the Indian space vision is fundamentally based on cooperation in space. Their main goal is collaborating with developing nations to replace the international space station with something akin to it. India has over 230 agreements with 60 countries and five international organisations, including anything from satellite construction to capacity building.
On January 26, India collaborated with Egypt in the space industry, offering strategic opportunities. India is incorporating the private sector into the space sector to accomplish its long-term goals, similar to what China and the US have done. This will position India as a significant emerging satellite internet market with a potential annual revenue incentive of $1 billion.
When it comes to the region’s burgeoning space sector, India is expanding its aerospace capabilities to support the growth of Asian countries. It demonstrated the capability of using low-cost Space 2.0 technology to build and launch 104 CubeSats into orbit in a single mission, indicating that developing countries can do so without relying on the support of international space players.
For Pakistan, which became the first South Asian and Muslim country to enter the space race in 1962, growth has been stunted due to a lack of research, technology, and political will. Today, the ability to manufacture and deploy domestic satellites is the primary goal of Pakistan’s space Vision 2040. China needs a market for its growing space knowledge, and Pakistan needs help establishing its space industry. This collaboration has the potential to improve their already strong friendship.
Apart from Türkiye, Pakistan also has partnerships with Thailand and the UAE to produce satellites and other space-based technology. One of Pakistan’s current major issues is a lack of financing, yet cooperation in the space industry with the aforementioned states can be very beneficial. As part of the BRI, China has already begun to provide technical assistance, switching from the American-owned GPS to China’s BeiDou and launching two satellites into orbit using Long March rockets. Additionally, assisted by China, Pakistan is anxious to send astronauts into space. Chinese efforts to expand space cooperation with Pakistan include constructing a space centre and the launch of additional Pakistani satellites.
Developing countries are more interested in cooperative environments to broaden their civilian-military space-based capabilities. In contrast, existing superpowers are focusing on developing anti-ballistic weapons and space deterrence to protect their space assets.
The nature of astropolitics is changing more toward cooperation as a result of this unconscious alliance-making in the space sector. This will eventually reduce developing countries’ reliance on US space capabilities, as developing nations advance the global space economy in fields like space exploration, mini-satellites, space station building, and space-related technology.
Furthermore, the issue of space debris and international space law will be given careful consideration to fill gaps in the Moon Treaty, Outer Space Treaty, and other national-level agreements.