Hong Kong Firm To Develop Satellite and Rocket Launch Site in Djibouti

Signing of the Republic of Djibouti – HKATG MoU. President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh (center) with HKATG Vice President Allen Fung (center left).

Signing of the Republic of Djibouti – HKATG MoU. President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh (center) with HKATG Vice President Allen Fung (center left).

The MOU signed this time not only involves the construction of 7 satellite launch pads and 3 rocket testing pads, but also covers supporting projects such as power stations, water plants, aerospace ports, roads, and ports.

On 9 January 2023, Djibouti signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group (HKATG)[i] and Touchroad International Holdings[ii] to develop a $1 billion satellite and rocket launch site in Djibouti. The project includes seven launch pads and three rocket test pads in addition to power stations, water plants, spaceports, roads, and maritime ports in Djibouti’s northern Obock region. The MOU stipulates that the government of Djibouti will provide the necessary land (a minimum of 10 square kilometers) with a co-managed lease that runs for a minimum of 35 years. The government of Djibouti will take over the lease after 30 years of co-management.

According to the state-affiliated China Daily, the project would alleviate high demand for commercial satellite launching facilities in China, which are largely dependent on the Wenchang Space Launch Site and Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center for commercial launches. China currently maintains four official space launch centers, all state-owned and operated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). A 2021 State Council Information Office white paper identified the country’s demand for “commercial launch pads and launch sites to meet different commercial needs” as a priority for China’s space capabilities through 2026.[iii]

For its part, Africa’s expanding space industry relies heavily on international partners, including private firms, universities, and national space programs. Several countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Namibia, and Tunisia, have already ventured into the space domain relying on Beijing’s capabilities. In 2007, China launched Nigeria’s first communications satellite. Moreover, Beijing launched Algeria’s first communication satellite, and in 2019 it launched Ethiopia’s and Sudan’s first satellites. In 2020, China’s launch of a second satellite for Ethiopia from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center was aired live on Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.

The announcement represents a major expansion of China’s involvement in Djibouti, where it has hosted its first official overseas military base since 2017. It remains to be seen what launch capabilities the site will support or to what extent Chinese firms will use the facility upon its projected completion in 2028. However, the involvement of HKATG and Touchroad, with their close ties to state-owned corporations, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects—coupled with a permanent PLA presence and other strategic investments—may allow China to be looked to as African states’ space partner of preference.[iv]


“与吉布提政府合作建太空港 助力商业航天突破限制 (Partnership with Djibouti Government to Build Spaceport Aids Commercial Aerospace Breakthroughs),” China Daily (PRC state-affiliated media), 12 January 2023. https://tech.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202301/12/WS63bfb3d4a3102ada8b22ae3e.html

The construction of the spaceport in the Republic of Djibouti is expected to take at least five years, that said, from a commercial point of view, the project is still of great benefit to the business of HKATG.

At present, most commercial satellites are launched in the new mode of “carpooling” of shared rockets, that is, “one rocket with multiple satellites” at the Wenchang Space Launch Site and China’s Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. Facing the high demand for commercial satellite launches in China in recent years, the demand for launch pads has been far outstripping supply, the development of Djibouti’s Spaceport will break the restrictions of the existing business model and have a positive impact on HKATG’s business development.

It is noteworthy that the parties will work together to establish research centers, universities and provide aerospace technologies, products, services and programs in addition to infrastructure development.

“驻吉布提大使胡斌会见香港航天科技集团有限公司 (Ambassador to Djibouti Hu Bin Meets with Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group Co., Ltd. Vice-President),” Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China, 5 January 2023. https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/zwbd_673032/jghd_673046/202301/t20230106_11002946.shtml

Ambassador Hu Bin expressed his affirmation of the cooperation between Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group Co., Ltd. and encouraged the enterprise to strengthen feasible research, to establish a firm sense of compliance, to balance corporate interests and social responsibilities, to promote the diversified economic development of Djibouti, and to contribute to Sino-Djiboutian cooperation. The embassy will actively provide the necessary support and assurances.

He Liehui, vice president of the Chinese African People’s Friendship Association, attended the meeting.


[i] HKATG (香港航天科技集团有限公司) maintains close ties with Chinese state-owned and affiliated giants Huawei Technologies (华为) and China Aerospace Technology Corporations (中国航天科技集团公司), both of which are main players in China’s military-civil fusion research and development programs. HKATG’s board members maintain strong ties to the CCP and its united front system. Vice Chairman and Executive Director Claire Ku previously served as the founding CEO of the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), a documented CCP united front organization. Vice President of Business Development, Allen Fung, is a member of the CCP’s All-China Youth Federation and a Standing Committee Member of the Guangdong Youth Federation.

[ii] Touchroad International Holdings is owned by Africa-focused Chinese investor He Liehui, who is the current Vice President of the Chinese African People’s Friendship Association, another known united front organization with development projects across the African continent.

[iii] For more on China’s space ambitions, see “China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective,” State Council Information Office, 28 January 2022, http://www.cnsa.gov.cn/english/n6465645/n6465648/c6813088/content.html

[iv] Other strategic BRI investments include China Merchant Ports Holdings’ operation and ownership stake in the Port of Doraleh’s Terminal Container and a high-capacity standard gauge railway that terminates at the Port of Doraleh.

Image Information:

Image:  Signing of the Republic of Djibouti – HKATG MoU. President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh (center) with HKATG Vice President Allen Fung (center left).
Source: Djiboutian Government https://twitter.com/IsmailOguelleh/status/1612488089603309568
Attribution:  Public Domain