Ghana has made its mark in the league of innovators world over by launching its first satellite into space. The satellite was sent into orbit from the International Space Centre after two years of hard work and a $50,000 investment into the project. GhanaSat1 was developed by students at All Nations University in Kaforidua with support from the Kyutech Institute of Technology in Japan.
In 2013, college students in Ghana launched a mini-satellite (the Deployable CanSat) the size of a soda can 165 meters into the sky on a big yellow balloon. The device recorded temperature and air pressure on its descent. It was a far cry from what GhanaSat1 would be but a start of something big nonetheless.
Prosper Ashilevi, the director of the then one year old Ghana Space Science and Technology Center said, “We hope that this practical demonstration of what can be done by students like them will generate more enthusiasm, fire up their imagination to come up with more creative things, and show that it’s possible that they’ll one day be able to launch their own real satellite into orbit.” He and his team were fighting a cynical public which did not believe they could pull it off. The soda can sized satellite might have been a great joke to tell among the doubters but four years after, the space center has seen its full sized satellite shoot into space. Whereas the Deployable CanSat went 165 meter, GhanaSat 1 will orbit 400km above the earth.
The satellite program was not only technically challenging to pull off but was a societal minefield. The country has a poverty headcount ratio of 24.2% and questions were therefore raised about the government’s priorities when it embarked on a space program which sparked enthusiasm for satellite building. President of All Nations University, Samuel Donkor highlighted this in 2013 when he said, “They (the people) think it is a pipe dream, a waste of money.” He added, “Some wonder why we couldn’t concentrate on our problems of water, sanitation, health, all those things. I categorically disagree. Space will help African countries who are very serious with it to leapfrog their development because it cuts across all sectors of the economy.”
All that potential is now to be realised.
The GhanaSat now in orbit
The 1000 gram satellite which is dubbed the fist university satellite in sub-Saharan Africa was sent into orbit on the 7th of July 2017 from the International Space Centre. 400 people watched the deployment of the cubesat which will monitor Ghana’s coastline and to build capacity in space science and technology. When questioned on the benefits Ghana will get from the satellite, the technical engineer of GhanaSat 1, Mr Ernest Matey told Radio Ghana, “First, I believe for the pride of it that Ghana has also entered into space. It is enough heritage for the country,” before adding, “Space science opens for more technological exploit for which we believe that this first satellite will open doors for it.”
He also said it was essential for capacity building in building even more satellites in the country.
Godfred Frempong, chief scientist at the Ghana’s Science and Technology icy Research Institute had previously emphasised the role of a regional satellite to pursue a common agenda which is local in nature. He argued that, “Ghana, for example, illegal mining is destroying our environment. So if we have a satellite we can use it to pinpoint where activity is going on. This would perhaps not be activity of interest to the US, but it is of interest to us.”
Ghana’s learning institutes and the country itself are breaking new ground. This is no child’s play. It is an overlooked African country claiming its spot among the big boys of global innovation. It is a warning shot of bigger things to come. Africa will not be ignored.