On 11 May 2018, the first ever Kenyan was deployed into space from Japan’s space agency JAXA’s module on International Space Station (ISS).
The satellite, known as 1KUNS-PF, is a 1U Cubesat developed by the University of Nairobi. Essentially an engineering test satellite, 1KUNS-PF’s secondary mission will be to capture images of Kenya for the purposes of mapping, monitoring the coastline, and investigating illegal logging.
The satellite was developed as part of a programme known as KiboCUBE, an initiative by JAXA and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). KiboCUBE, which was launched in 2015, offers educational and research institutions from developing countries the opportunity to deploy cubesats from JAXA’s ISS module, known as Kibo. Kenya’s 1KUNS-PF was selected in the first round of KiboCUBE applications in 2016, and is also the first cubesat launched under the KiboCUBE programme.
Said Prof. Peter Mbithi, Vice Chancellor of University of Nairobi, “This achievement is an important milestone for University of Nairobi and Kenya, and it is our vision that it will create new opportunities for the University of Nairobi and Kenya to participate in space science. We are grateful for the support provided by international partners and the Government of Kenya during this mission, and we hope that this will continue in the future so that we can build the capacity for Kenyans to benefit and build more satellites”.
The second round of KiboCUBE applications was held in 2017, during which a team from the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala was selected. The Guatemalan team intends to build a cubesat to test equipment for monitoring the concentration of harmful cyanobacteria (algae blooms) over inland bodies of water. A third round has recently been held, and the results are expected to be published soon.