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Morocco to become space power with first-ever spy satellite Open in fullscreen

Karim Traboulsi

Morocco to become space power with first-ever spy satellite

Morocco will become the third African nation with such capability [Vega rocket: AFP]

Date of publication: 25 October, 2017

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Morocco will become a space power in the coming weeks with the launch of the kingdom's first ever spy satellite which experts say could increase tensions with Algeria and Spain.
Morocco will become a space power in the coming weeks with the launch of the kingdom's first ever spy satellite which experts say could increase tensions with Algeria and Spain.

An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch the Moroccan satellite, dubbed EO Sat 1, from French Guiana on November 8, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.

A second satellite with similar specs will be launched in 2018.

According to space specialist websites, it is a high resolution optical reconnaissance system built by a consortium that includes Airbus Defence and Thales Alenia of France.

Surrounded by extreme secrecy, the construction of the first Moroccan spy satellite is thought to have been commissioned in 2013 during a visit by French President François Hollande to Rabat. The two space-based spy systems are estimated to have set the kingdom's taxpayers back by around $590 million.

Space experts say the system is a modified version of French satellite Pleiades, which is capable of taking 500 images daily including in infrared and sending them to ground stations every six hours. 

Although the primary function of the satellite is likely to focus on smuggling, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism in the Sahel region and efforts to curb illegal immigration through the kingdom, Algerian and Spanish media have raised questions about its regional implications.

According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, the satellite system will allow Rabat to get detailed information on military installations and troop movements in both Spain and Algeria, as well as spy on the Western Sahara separatist group Polisario Front, with which Morocco maintains a precarious ceasefire.

Morocco claims two Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, as its own. Quoting military experts, El Pais warned Morocco's acquisition could narrow Madrid's military edge in a future conflict despite the two countries being on friendly terms today.

Morocco's relationship with Algeria is less friendly and over the past decades has been strained with border crossings between the two countries closed.

Morocco accuses Algeria of supporting Western Sahara separatist groups.

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