Space Mining Trends Forecast African Strategic Partnerships

18 Oct 2023 | By Lindsay Moses
Strategic parterships
18 Oct 2023 | By Lindsay Moses

The act of mining is already burdensome on earth. Mining risks more than tenfold in space. Mining in outer space is thus something that can only be considered for nations already comfortably able to explore outer space. African states are eager to become spacefaring and very few actually are ready. The primary hurdle to realising this lucrative opportunity remains its practical realisation through the requisite knowledge, investment, skills, and technology. It becomes important for African states to prioritise gaining spacefaring abilities first. For this to happen, Africa needs very specific skills, knowledge, and technology. The potential opportunities for African space mining lie in various collaborative avenues: the BRICS alliance, private investment, or even through domestic capacity building. 

African states (along with other Global South countries) have historically lagged in spacefaring abilities in comparison to spacefaring nations with established space economies and supporting infrastructure. Recently other Global South countries have fared quite well, the most notable being the India Space Program’s successful Chandrayaan-3 mission to the south pole (making it the first country to land near the south pole of the Moon). India’s historic trip to the dark side of the moon is indicative of its powerful space technology and knowledge and officially make it a keen global player.

Many of these key factors which make a nation operationally spacefaring are often inaccessible to and expensive for African nations, as it has major financial implications. Space exploration presupposes a nation has a competent domestic space program with launching capabilities i.e., advanced spacecraft technology, infrastructure, and knowledge. The direction of funds and prioritisation of space capacitation may be a contentious and difficult task for many African states. Often African states fare on the poorer side, with not as much loose change to spare as Global North states yet with comparatively many more urgent and diverse needs and demands happening at the same time? Many African states for instance already struggle getting citizens from their homes to work efficiently every day, let alone, creating a seamless high functioning transport system for space technology.  

Partnerships with private entities or with states that have the sufficient financial resources, requisite knowledge, technology, and operationalising infrastructure thus becomes one of the most quick and viable routes to space exploration.[1]  We may thus see legislative frameworks being reconsidered as well as a potential increased trend of bilateral agreements and MOUs. Already we begin seeing partnerships form between spacefaring nations, the most prominent being led by the U.S along with The United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates. Slowly, however, African states are being invited to consider potential partnerships with Western countries.

However, African states are also now in a unique position, where the allegiance between Global South states has never been stronger. The recent BRICS summit hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa saw space giants India, Russia, China, attend and discuss the summit themes of mutually accelerated growth, sustainable development, and inclusive multilateralism.  More exciting developments included the onboarding of states Iran, The United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt, and Ethiopia.  The new additions are all global technology powerhouses expected to grow the BRICS bloc’s influence and build collaboration in minerals and energy sectors. Through the BRICS Innovative Cooperation Action plan, we see political will for collaboration, mutual desire for growth, and a novel opportunity for BRICS nations to mobilise resources for spacefaring capacity-building and for individual states to ensure space technology and knowledge transfers.

Space exploration and mining is a difficult, politically charged endeavour. Will African states begin to take firm stances on space mining? Though continental ambitions of space remain relatively uniform, we may begin to see more nuanced views on space resource utilisation in line with each state’s national goals and development strategies. A closer examination of a nation’s foreseeable role and objectives in global space activities to come is worth serious consideration. If building domestic capabilities is the route chosen, then scholars have noted that African states wishing to participate in space mining activity must create an environment which attracts and stimulates investment and vibrant applied research and development in relation to spacefaring technologies.[2] Domestic treaty accession and ratification, or else bids for partnerships and solidified agreements may slowly begin to reveal nation state ambitions and lay the foundations of what could possibly the best of times for humanity - or the worst. Who is to say?  Either way, we are surely in the most exciting of times.


[1] Cleilia Iacomino, Commercial Space Exploration: Potential Contributions of Private Actors to Space Exploration Programmes. (2019), Springer International Publishing AG, pp. 1–95.

[2] José P. Ferreira, Imane El Khantouti, Ananyo Bhattacharya et al, The Space-Faring Africa: Commercial Space Industry and its Readiness for Innovation-Driven Investment. 17 Dec 2021. New Space. Available at: Accessed 10 December 2022.