In recent years, more and more nations have started looking to establish themselves in space. Alongside this push by national governments, the NewSpace movement has emerged in the United States, driving a burgeoning private space sector that is now conceiving new space programmes in many other countries. In response to this transformational shift, Europe and France remain key players and partners of choice for developing new launchers and space science programmes fuelling research into the Universe and our home planet. They are also contributing to the European Union’s flagship Galileo, Copernicus and Horizon 2020 programmes.
Of the 50 essential climate variables (ECVs), 26 can only be measured from the vantage point of space. On 11 December 2017, CNES, working in concert with the world’s leading space agencies, proposed the creation of a Space Climate Observatory (SCO) to pool climate data acquired from space and make them readily available to the international scientific community. In Africa, such data are driving development of operational space applications like those CNES is encouraging for topographic mapping in Ethiopia with Sentinel-2 imagery, monitoring of water resources in Uganda with altimetry satellites and collection of agricultural statistics in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.
Sustainable development in Africa can also benefit from space science and education, as displayed at the “African Chapter”, the second edition of the International Space Forum (ISEF2) organized recently by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). Today, there is a genuine desire to involve academia more closely in applying space solutions to meet the global challenges facing the African continent. Tunisia’s nascent space programme will therefore be able to leverage the growth in space applications, underpinned by a rich repository of climate-monitoring data and research and higher education activities. Space cooperation between France and Tunisia will also be focused on climate science and water resource management, via a calibration-validation site in the Merguellil river basin for space missions, to be used in particular for Envisat, Terrasar-X and Sentinel data, and via the Merguellil observatory as part of the SICMED international programme (Surfaces et Interfaces Continentales en MEDiterranée) and the NAÏLA international joint research laboratory set up in 2016 by the IRD development research institute.