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Ghana’s first satellite launched to Space: exclusive interview with the three Engineers of this initiative

Ghana gained independence in 1957 the same year when the Soviet Union launched the earth's first artificial satellite, Sputnik I

By: EBR - Posted: Monday, September 11, 2017

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After the launch of Ghanasat-1, the team continues to educate young students through the ‘outreach programme’ where they visit high school students in Ghana and use demonstrations showing how a satellite communicates: ‘By 2018  every Ghanian student will be able to define what a satellite is’ indicated Matey.  The launch of the satellite sets up business to build more satellites. This will create a lot of new job opportunities for the young graduates. The establishment of companies will benefit Ghanaian society as it opens a wide range of new job positions for the locals. Some examples of these companies are: GOMspace from Denmark, AM Technology from Switzerland and New Space Systems from South Africa.
After the launch of Ghanasat-1, the team continues to educate young students through the ‘outreach programme’ where they visit high school students in Ghana and use demonstrations showing how a satellite communicates: ‘By 2018 every Ghanian student will be able to define what a satellite is’ indicated Matey. The launch of the satellite sets up business to build more satellites. This will create a lot of new job opportunities for the young graduates. The establishment of companies will benefit Ghanaian society as it opens a wide range of new job positions for the locals. Some examples of these companies are: GOMspace from Denmark, AM Technology from Switzerland and New Space Systems from South Africa.

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by Margarita Chrysaki*

Interestingly enough, after 60 years of human activity in Space, Ghana through a private institution known as All Nations University College became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to launch an educational satellite, Ghanasat-1, into earth orbit on Friday 7 July 2017! 

EBR had the opportunity to interview the three engineers and designers of this satellite who managed to put Ghana on the international map of Space activities: Benjamin Bonsu the Project Manager and a PhD student in Applied Science for System Engineering, Joseph Quansah and Ernest Teye Matey of the All Nations University College (ANUC), Koforidua. The team was, also, first in the history of Ghana and Sub-Saharan-Africa to successfully communicate with the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014 after developing the first amateur ground station in Ghana. 

GHANASAT-1 Project: The story (October 2015 – January 2017)

The Ghanasat-1 project started in October 2015 and was fully sponsored by management of All Nations University. Ghanasat-1 is a collaborative project under the Birds Project initiated by the management of Laboratory of Spacecraft Environment Interaction Engineering at Kyushu Institute of Technology (LaSEINE, Kyutech) in Japan. Birds Project was established to provide hands-on training for students from non-space faring countries. The purpose was to learn about the whole satellite development process from satellite mission planning to satellite disposal. Moreover, the project also serves as catalyst to create an international human network to help develop and sustain indigenous space program in the different nations taking part in this initiative. 

Ghanasat-1 CubeSat was developed by the three engineers and was fully sponsored by the management of ANUC. The Ghanasat-1 project started on October 2015 and completed all development phases on January 2017. The development phases of the satellite were reviewed by JAXA safety and management teams as well as Kyutech peers in satellite engineering to ensure the Ghanasat-1 satisfies both launch and space environment requirements. A cost of 500,000 US dollars has been invested in the Ghanasat-1 and all other ANU-SSTL1  projects by the All Nations University management. 
Benefits for Ghanaian society

The team employed a low and a high resolution camera on board to take pictures from the coastal borders of Ghana while the satellite orbits 400km (248 miles) above the earth. This data will be used for security purposes as till now the government had to buy high cost data from many countries. Having their own satellite allows them to get this data for free and share it with the other agencies in Ghana.

‘We want also to set the pace for Space technology by telling young people to build capacity and train themselves in this kind of technology. We encourage the government under the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education to add a Space Science course in the high school curriculum. In this way, we will train children on how to become the future engineers and therefore constitute a powerful staff for our Space agencies’ said Bonsu. 

After the launch of Ghanasat-1, the team continues to educate young students through the ‘outreach programme’ where they visit high school students in Ghana and use demonstrations showing how a satellite communicates: ‘By 2018  every Ghanian student will be able to define what a satellite is’ indicated Matey. 
The launch of the satellite sets up business to build more satellites. This will create a lot of new job opportunities for the young graduates. The establishment of companies will benefit Ghanaian society as it opens a wide range of new job positions for the locals. Some examples of these companies are: GOMspace from Denmark, AM Technology from Switzerland and New Space Systems from South Africa. 

As the main goal is to make Ghana a Space-faring nation, Ghanasat-1 will also contribute significantly to the scientific research. This will benefit the next missions as it will improve the various commercial satellite components and test them in Space. 

Future project Ghanasat-2: illegal mining of gold and food securit
y

‘Most African countries have been blessed with natural resources such as gold. Gold is easily accessible in many areas of Ghana such as Denkyira-Obuasi, Tarkwa and Sefwi Bekwai etc. The youth of these areas go in search of Gold for quick money due to high rate of unemployment’, said Quansah. 

However the use of mercury and other illegal means in gold processing cause environmental constraints such as water and air pollution. In order to get the gold, you have to pass through the right process and be regulated by the government which is not always the case. For this reason, one of the purposes of the next satellite to be launched from Ghana, Ghanasat-2, will be to monitor these illegal activities. But how can a satellite detect illegal mining activities? 

‘The higher you go, the more clearly you see’ said Bonsu. Indeed having a satellite orbiting the earth helps you get a wider view to assess something. Every satellite has an attitude control which includes a lot of ‘trackers’ aligned with it. This will allow the satellite to detect a particular region while it is in orbit. Even more, a satellite with a high resolution camera less than 2-metres, is able to zoom particular regions and send the information in real time to the environmental protection agencies to deal adequately with the situation on the ground.

 According to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations** report, agriculture contributes 54% of Ghana's GDP and accounts for over 40% of export earnings while at the same time is providing over 90% of the food needs of the country. Ghana's agriculture is predominantly small holder, traditional and rain-fed. 
‘Especially in rural areas people depend on their crops of coco, yam and plantains even on a day-to-day level and still, there is a big challenge of food insecurity’ reported to EBR, Jovana Savic, an Education Programs Coordinator at Ghana Health and Education Initiative based in Humjibre, a small village close to Sefwi Bekwai in the Western Region of Ghana. 

The team acknowledges that agriculture carries the major economic aspect in Ghana and agrees that Ghanasat-2 will also be able to map the facility environment with particular sensors and offer solutions towards more food security in rural areas of Ghana. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Agriculture has seen the benefits of how this satellite can benefit the society and he already stated to the government that Ghanasat-2 has to be funded by the state. 

‘After the successful launch of Ghanasat-1, we do have the support of the government for our next project. However we need to keep in mind that the satellite business requires further investments and sustainable policies need to be implemented everytime by the state and the agencies’ highlighted Bonsu.

Undoubtedly, the 7th July 2017 is a historical moment for Ghana. Ghanaians are excited for their first satellite as well as Sub-Saharan Africa for its first educational satellite. Though weighting just 1kg, Ghanasat-1 with an almost 2-years lifespan marks a new beginning for the Ghana society, the country and the whole continent as it will hopefully become a role model for other countries.

* Margarita Chrysaki is a Brussels-based Scientific Journalist. She has BSc and a MA in Political Sciences and she was recently been admitted for the Master of Space Studies in KU Leuven.
** http://www.fao.org/ghana/fao-in-ghana/ghana-at-a-glance/en/ 
1The Space Science Technology Laboratory of All Nations University College formerly known as Intelligent Space Systems Laboratory (ISSL), was established in February 2012 following a sensitization workshop held by the University. This workshop organized as part of ANU’s celebration of a decade of innovation, excellence and quality higher education, was the first of its kind in Ghana and attracted University scholars, researchers, government workers and among many others. The mission of ANU-SSTL is to promote and build human capacity in the area of Space Science and Satellite Technology through innovative research and development of educative projects to impact Ghanaian society and Africa as a whole. 

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