Rocket Science in the Congo

In 2007, the first African-owned space project was launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Project Troposphere was established by Jean-Patrice Keka Okese and his team. The rockets were manufactured and launched at Menkao, two hours away from the capital, Kinshasa.

With limited resources, Keka, an engineering graduate of the Kinshasa’s Institut Supérieur des Techniques Appliquées (ISTA), formed the space science company, Développement Tous Azimuts (DTA), or ‘Development in Every Sector’, in 2005. DTA designed and built the project’s equipment locally, including a control center and a rocket launching pad. The Congo’s closeness to the equator provided a conducive earth surface speed for launching rockets.

The project’s goal was to launch rockets up to 36 km in altitude. The first successful rocket launch was at their second attempt, where the rocket, at 31 kg and a 0.19 m diameter, reached an altitude of 1.5 km. The second success, at their fourth launch attempt, saw DTA launch a 200 kg, 0.16 m diameter rocket to an altitude of 15 km. The following attempt at launch was designed to reach 36 km in altitude. However, the rocket, which was carrying a rat as a test passenger, deviated from its course and crashed. The next launch is set to take place in 2020 and will include a three-stage rocket carrying a satellite called Njiwa, which will take pictures of the earth at an altitude of 200 km.

Initially, the project was fully funded by the DTA. However, after the success of their fourth launch, it generated some interest from the government of the DRC, who helped drive publicity for the project. The project has also gained crowdfunding support to the tune of USD 26,000, from those eager to see the success of Africa’s first home-grown space program.

By Edel Were

(Image: Uhem Mesut)

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