Launch of Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory
Ghana launches a Radio Astronomy Observatory that would enable scientists from around the world to view and study the universe from within the country at Kuntunse, near Accra. The launching of the first phase of the conversion of the telecom dish into a Satellite dish, today Thursday August 24, by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo would make Ghana the second country in Africa to own a Radio Astronomy Observatory after South Africa.
After the launching, the second phase of the 32-meter antenna involving more engineering work would be carried out to help increase the sensitivity and speed of the dish from 0.09 degrees per second to 0.3 degree per seconds.
During a media briefing in Accra, officials from the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) and the South Africa based Square Kilometer Array Africa (SKA Africa), who collaborated to sponsor and build the observatory told journalists that the facility would help put Ghana on a higher pedestal of countries that are into space science.
Professor Dickson Adomako, Director of the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI) of the GAEC, said the first phase of the observatory to be launched involved the structural work of the antenna, electrical works and the total configuration of the antenna which used to be a redundant telecommunication dish belonging to Vodafone Ghana that used to only point at one direction. He said the observatory which can turn to all directions, pointing to a particular source that one want to target, was built by Ghanaian artisans who were trained by South African experts.
He said currently, there are some science commissioning going on at the Kuntunse site to be able to detect some of the celestial bodies to prove the effectiveness of the dish. He said by the middle of 2019, the SKA Africa partners would totally hand over the dish to the Ghanaian community to manage.
Speaking on the benefits of the observatory to Ghana, Prof Adomako said many young Ghanaian scientists have been trained both in South Africa and in Ghana for their PhDs as well as in the UK where some Ghanaians are being trained as astronomers and astrophysicists to help man the dish.
He said many electrical engineers, software engineers, and mechanical engineers as well as certified welders have been trained to become very useful in the society. He said a lot of data could be gathered with the observatory to help institutions and the country to plan better.
On the direct usefulness of the observatory to citizens, Prof Adomako said: “this is purely science work but if you look into the heavens there are a lot of giant clouds that consist of gases and dust, planet and a whole lots of things. And then the universe is still expanding and so when we look at the stars or point at a planet we will be able to know about the composition, movement, and structure of the universe which scientists are more eager to learn and know about.
“But to the layman, the benefits will be the spinoffs that we can get out of what we are doing. Also a lot of astronomers will be coming to Ghana which would enhance the network of what Ghanaian scientists are doing in that area.
“Because it is a big data that we are going to work with and that will increase internet facility within that area, it will be a source of tourist’s attraction with many astronomers coming to Ghana and will serve as a form of income generation to the country.
“Ghana is almost positioned at the centre of the world and so with this antennae you can see the northern hemisphere as well as the southern and so there are of opportunities for other astronomers to come and use the facility”.
He said in all nine partner African countries including Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, and Madagascar, who are studying the success of Ghana’s satellite to enable them also launch and use theirs in their respective countries.
Prof Adomako said the internet connectivity within the Kuntunse area has improved so well while the roads within the vicinity has been constructed.
Ms Anita Loots, Head of Africa Planning Office of the SKA Africa, said Ghana’s observatory is a timely facility that would help in the effort of African scientists finding solutions for Africa. She said: “attaining the SDGs depends very much on Africa’s ability to gather data on health, education, agriculture, sanitation and the economies to make informed decision”, and that was what the observatory would help in attaining.
Ms Loots said after the handing over of the facility to Ghana in 2019, the country would need to deploy its Science, Technology and Innovation funds being established by government through the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation to train many more people to get into laboratories and explore their scientific talents and come out with the best solutions for Africa.
She said South Africa supported the construction of Ghana’s dish with GH¢30 million from their African Renaissance fund.
Ghana is also supporting the construction with two million Ghana cedis until the 2019 period.