The Preparation of Cameroon’s National Flagship Space Programme ‘‘CAMSPACE’’
By Ferdinand Doh Galabe, Partner
The advent of the digital or information age several decades ago and the ushering in of an information technology-based economy has made space conquest an imperative for nations on several levels. Earth observation, satellite communication, navigation and positioning, space science and astronomy are critical strategic national capabilities.
The optimal use of space opportunities, through the satellite network, has led to the development and improvement of communications on the African continent, and between the African continent and other continents, over the years. These breakthroughs are accompanied by unprecedented economic and social opportunities.
Experiences in other parts of the world show that space science and technology provide an ideal platform to support the development of a knowledge-based economy. For example, in the United Kingdom, space services contribute to a number of societal benefits, and currently generate £7 billion annually, supporting over 70 000 jobs, according to the Satellite and Space Services.
As of December 2019, more than 80 States and international intergovernmental organizations had launched around 7,900 satellites, lunar/planetary probes and landers, crewed spacecraft, uncrewed supply craft and space station flight elements (functional space objects).
According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, 92 nations, including the EU as a bloc and 15 African countries have a national space programme. These include: Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, EU, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, North Korea, South Korea, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, UAE, UK, USA, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
On January 25, 2023, the African Union’s African Space Agency (AfSA) was inaugurated, as a result of the appreciation of the potential role and benefits of space-based technologies in socioeconomic development, its importance to the African Union Agenda 2063 (Decision Assembly/AU/Dec.589 (XXVI)) and the need for an appropriate institution for the effective governance, promotion and coordination of space activities on the continent.
Addressing participants at the United States-Africa Civil and Commercial Space Cooperation Forum in Washington on 13 December 2022, the President of the Republic of Cameroon called for the transfer of technology to African countries to ensure equitable access to space and its opportunities. For Cameroon’s Head of State, “cooperation in the space sector is a critical imperative”.
It is against this backdrop that in February 2023 Cameroon’s Ministry of Telecommunications made an international call for expressions of interest for the pre-selection of technical consultancy firms to carry out an in-depth technical feasibility study for the implementation of a space programme in Cameroon.
On September 14, 2023, the Minister of Public Contracts derogated to the traditional tender process by authorizing recourse to the mutual agreement award system which led to the award of the contract on October 14, 2023 to a consortium of technical consulting firms comprising the French multinational Euroconsult, Cameroonian INTEGC SARL and American space imagery and geospatial content vendor DigitalGlobe, subsidiary of Maxar. The consortium has been allocated a budget of 2 billion FCFA (USD 3.2 million) and 11 months to carry out the feasibility study.
It is believed that implementing a space programme will improve Cameroon’s attractiveness to investors, create a new market and boost innovation and research in many related fields such as Big Data, astronomy, artificial intelligence, robotics and so on. This will equally promote spatial entrepreneurship and the development of a variety of solutions in the fields of agriculture, natural disaster management and regional planning.
When the feasibility studies give Cameroon the greenlight to proceed with the programme, the State will need to develop, like African countries such as Nigeria (2010), Tunisia (1984/93), South Africa (1993/95) and Kenya (2016), a national regulatory framework to govern the conduct of space-related activities.
Cameroon will equally need to factor in the international legal framework of space exploration, especially those adopted under the aegis of the United Nations, such as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (‘‘Outer Space Treaty’’) signed on January 27, 1967 of which Cameroon is a signatory state, the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (‘‘Registration Convention’’) signed on January 14, 1975, the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, the Convention Relating to the Distribution of Programme-Carrying Signals Transmitted by Satellite (1974), etc.
Issues which Cameroon may consider when enacting regulatory frameworks for national space activities range, for example, from the launch of objects into and their return from outer space, the operation of a launch or re-entry site and the operation and control of space objects in orbit to the design and manufacture of spacecraft, the application of space science and technology, and exploration activities and research.
Most national space laws avoid defining or delimiting outer space. The Armenian law of March 6, 2020 on space activities defines outer space as the space that occurs at 100 km above sea level. The Indonesian 2013 law on outer space defines it as space, including all of its materials, beyond airspace, as well as all of the space surrounding and covering airspace. The Philippines, on its part, adheres to the definition of airspace as found in part II, section 1, article 2, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, namely, as that area above the territorial sea.
This is not uncharted territory for Cameroonians as at least four Cameroonians have joined various National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space programs, including the astronaut and cosmonaut Dr. Ernest SIMO, nuclear engineer and physicist Arsène Stéphane BIWOLE, physicist Babette Christelle Tchonang and Reine Dominique Ntone Sike, a space systems engineer. The contributions of these members of Cameroon’s diapora will go a long way to help Cameroon implement a space programme.
As a law firm, we provide legal services related to space activities and space law by advising on space-related regulations and treaties, helping new space actors and organizations understand the complex legal framework that governs space activities, providing guidance on national and international laws, regulations, and treaties related to space exploration and use, contract negotiation and drafting, assisting with drafting and negotiating contracts related to space activities, such as launch contracts, satellite leases, and space tourism agreements; on intellectual property related aspect we can help protect intellectual property rights related to space technologies, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights, we help space actors manage risk related to space activities by understanding space activities and tailoring contracts to the needs of parties and actors. This includes advising on liability issues, insurance coverage, and risk mitigation strategies. On the litigation and dispute prevention or resolution side of things we provide representation and advocacy in court or arbitration proceedings. On the regulatory side, we help ensure that space actors comply with all relevant space-related regulations and laws, such as export controls and licensing requirements.