Friday, August 11, 2017

Ghana in Space

          By Brian Orlotti

Last month, the African nation of Ghana launched its first ever satellite, GhanaSat-1, from the International Space Station (ISS). Africa’s new, low cost space efforts are attracting the attention of new space powers, who sense a business opportunity.

The trio responsible for GhannaSat-1. PhD students Benjamin Bonsu, Joseph Quansah and Ernest Teye Matey worked under the supervision of Professor Mengo Cho (not shown), the director of laboratory of spacecraft environment engineering and several other faculty members at ANU. As outlined in the June 2nd, 2017 Buzz Ghanna post, "GhannaSat-1: Ghanna's First Space Satellite to be Launched in Japan," the program was initially funded by a $500,000 US grant from ANU. 

GhanaSat-1 is a cubesat developed by a student team at Ghana’s All Nations University (ANU), with financial and technical support from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). No financial support from the Ghanian government was provided.

Weighing around 1 kg and powered by on-board solar panels, the satellite carries low and high-resolution cameras that will be used to take pictures of Ghana and monitor the country's coastline as well as sensors to measure the effects of space radiation on commercial microprocessors. GhanaSat-1 was delivered to the ISS in June on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, then launched on July 7th by a Japanese astronaut from the NanoRacks cubesat deployer, located in the station’s Kibo module.

The satellite will serve as both a technology demonstrator and Earth observation satellite. In an interview with the BBC, Richard Damoah, Director ANU’s Space Systems Technology Laboratory, said that the satellite would "...also help us train the upcoming generation on how to apply satellites in different activities around our region. For instance, [monitoring] illegal mining is one of the things we are looking to accomplish."

With the success of GhanaSat-1, Ghana is now reportedly making plans for a GhanaSat-2, to be equipped with better cameras for monitoring deforestation as well as the country’s water usage.

In addition to Japan, other spacefaring nations are taking interest in Africa’s space activites. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s national space agency, is one of them. In an interview with Sputnik Media, Dr Mayank Vahia, a scientist in the department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Mumbai’s TATA Institute of Fundamental Research stated:
ISRO definitely aims to commercially tap the multi-billion dollar global space market as well, which will grow only as nations realise the usefulness of satellites for Earth observation, telecommunications and a host of other objectives. 
When it comes to satellite launches, ISRO has a distinct advantage as it could deliver it in a cost-effective way as seen during the launch of 104 satellites in February earlier this year.
Vahia’s reference to India’s world-record-setting launch of 104 satellites in a single mission aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) last February, combined with its new interest in Africa, reflects the South Asian nation’s hunger for a larger share of the $300 billion USD global space industry.

As new innovations drive the cost of rocket and satellite technology down, smaller nations will be able to contribute to space exploration and development. In past ages of exploration, smaller powers (such as Portugal and The Netherlands) were able to exert their own influence alongside larger ones, shaping large swaths of the world---culturally, politically and economically---(for better or worse) in their own right.

Our own burgeoning age of space exploration will likely see the same.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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