First, it was the post Cold War race between the US and the former Soviet Union to become the global space power. Though initially, the Soviet Union was in the lead with the launch of Sputnik and the flight of Yuri Gagarin, at a later stage the US had the advantage with the first manned landing on the moon on July 20,1969.
The global space competition then moved to Asia and the countries aiming to become the Asian space power are India, China and Japan. Right now China appears to be in the lead, but do not be surprised if India overtakes it with its excellent capabilities.
After Asia, the scene shifts to Africa and there could be a race among three countries to emerge as an African space power. The three are Nigeria, South Africa and Algeria. All three are involved in the development of space technology.
To start with Nigeria is making preparations to launch its second and third earth observation satellites in February 2011. According to Nigeria's National Space Research and Development Agency (Narsda), NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X are slated for lift off in the first quarter of 2011, with February being mentioned as the most probable month.
NigeriaSat-2, a high resolution earth observation satellite will be used primarily for resource management and mapping of the Nigerian territory.When it becomes fully operational it will help in implementing Vision-20 2020 in the key sectors of the country's economy.
NigeriaSat-X was built by Nigerian engineers and scientists to showcase Nigeria's capacity in satellite technology. This satellite will focus on disaster management and global environmental monitoring campaigns. Both the satellites will be launched by the Russian-Ukraine Dnepr rocket.
Nigeria launched its first earth observation micro satellite, NigeriaSat-1 in September 2003; and the first Pan-African communication satellite, NigcomSat-1 in May 2007. Nigeria became the third African country to zoom into the space age after South Africa and Algeria.
South Africa: This country has played a major role in international space exploration programmes. Between 1950 and 1970, South Africa tracked satellites to assess the effects of the upper atmosphere on their orbits. Lunar and interplanetary missions of other countries were tracked from a South African tracking station.
This station also received images of Mars transmitted by Nasa's Mariner 1V spacecraft In 1999 South Africa launched its first satellite, SunSat. Weighing 64 kgs, the mircosatellite was built by university students.
Algeria: The Algerian space programme focusses on micro satellite technology, space telecommunications, space instrument and remote sensing. Its first satellite, Alsat-1, was launched on November 28,2002, and had a five-year life span. On July 12, 2010 an Algerian satellite, Alsat-2a was launched by India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The signficance of this flight was that it was the first time that India was launching a satellite with American components after the signing of the Technology Safeguards Agreement with US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, visited New Delhi.
Algeria's national space programme between 2006 and 2020 includes the setting up of additional space facilities and more space systems and application projects. Its future plans include the launch of telecommunication satellites.
Four African countries, Algeria, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are co-operating for a satellite constellation dedicated to the monitoring and management of African resources and environment. Kenya is space programme is being aided by Italy,
Now, will there be a space race among Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia?