Africa’s space sector is currently estimated at $400 billion dollars. Countries such as Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya are ambitiously expanding their space activities to compete with Nigeria and South Africa who have long held the biggest slice of the African space pie.
This is a wise move considering that Investment Bank Goldman Sachs projects that the global space industry will be worth more than a whopping $1 trillion US dollars by the 2040s.
The impressive ambitions of companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, OffWorld and SpaceX who aim to make space tourism, space mining and human settlement on Mars a reality have rightly received significant media attention.
Unfortunately, this has led to a common perception that utilisation of outer space is an unnecessary luxury for developing countries, such as Ghana. This view overlooks the fact that space technology can be used to solve or minimise many of the problems faced by developing countries while accelerating national development.
Benefits of outer space utilisation
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Electronic banking, cloud-based data storage, radio, GPS navigation, wi-fi and satellite television - Space-related applications - are regular features of our daily lives.
The benefits from satellite imagery – just one type of space application- for example, can help reduce the financially and environmentally devastating crimes of illegal sand and gold mining (“galamsey”), help to predict food shortages and improve planning for harvests.
Similarly, satellite images can also be used to monitor and prevent illegal fishing and drug trafficking in Ghana’s waters while helping to predict disease outbreaks such as cholera, potentially saving thousands of lives.
Data from such images would be of benefit to private companies, as well as many of Ghana’s state agencies. For example, it could improve the Ministry of Defence’s role in ensuring national security. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why America is considering the establishment of a Space Force as part of its Armed Forces.
Ghana’s involvement in the space sector
Recently, several media outlets reported the disqualification of Ghana from the African Union competition to host the African Space Agency headquarters. This was allegedly due to late submission of bid documents.
Although such failure is regrettable, all is not lost as several activities by both government and private parties demonstrate recognition of the immense potential value space utilisation can add to Ghana’s development efforts.
In 2008, the then-Minister for the Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation, Ms Sherry Ayittey, suggested the establishment of a national space programme. Although this is yet to come to fruition, there has since been discussion regarding the creation of a Ghanaian Space Agency.
In July 2017, a group of engineering students at All Nations University in Koforidua built and successfully launched Ghana’s first satellite.
In June 2018, a small Ghanaian delegation attended the special High-Level segment of the 61st session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna and most recently, in January 2019, the Ghana Space Science & Technology Institute held an international workshop on Dish Conversion for Radio Astronomy.
However, Ghana is yet to ratify the international space treaties and has no legislation for the regulation of space activities within the country. This is crucial to attract investors to any future commercial space market.
Rapid completion and publication of a draft space policy apparently in preparation is an urgent step for Ghana if it is to avoid being left behind in the international scramble to reap the benefits of space.
Space is linked to a tech-savvy future for Ghana
While efforts are being made, our use of outer space is far from optimal. Expert consultations should be undertaken to determine whether it is feasible for Ghana to establish a spaceport to take advantage of the country’s location at the equator.
A hub dedicated to space science and technology innovation would have the capacity to result in new products and services which can enrich the local economy, create new jobs and infrastructure and improve health care, transportation services and industrial production. This should be supported by government agencies, the local private sector and foreign investors.
It should not be forgotten that one of Ghana’s most famous citizens was the late world-renowned mathematical physicist Professor Francis Allotey, whose “Allotey Formalism” was crucial to space research and exploration, winning him the prestigious Prince Philip Gold Medal Award in 1973. His legacy must be secured. The task now is to foster an interest in space amongst the nation’s young people and harness the talent of local entrepreneurs in order to transform space science and technology into practical benefits for the citizens of Ghana. To ignore or minimize the importance of space to Ghana would be an opportunity lost and an unforgivable disservice to our current and future generations.