Koforidua (Ghana): Their project might not sound like much: The college students today launched a tiny model of a satellite the size of a Coke can on a big yellow balloon. It went aloft to a height of 165 meters and then came back down attached to a red parachute.
Yet in this developing West African country, ambitious organisers, who recently launched the Ghana Space Science and Technology Center, see the test as a sign of bigger things to come.
"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," said Prosper Kofi Ashilevi, director of the space center that marked its one-year anniversary earlier this month.
The effort has drawn some skepticism, acknowledged Samuel H Donkor, the president of All Nations University.
"They think it is a pipe dream, a waste of money," said Donkor, who has directed USD 50,000 to the program.
But Ashilevi, the space center director, said it was essential for local universities to train students with a passion for space.
"Some wonder why we couldn`t concentrate on our problems of water, sanitation, health, all those things. I categorically disagree," he said. "Space will help African countries who are very serious with it to leapfrog their development because it cuts across all sectors of the economy."
Experts say Ghana is probably a good five years or more from developing its own operational satellites, which could one day be used to confront everything from natural disasters to the smuggling of natural resources.
Today`s project, though, started at All Nations University with just a big balloon to carry aloft the miniature model of a satellite, known as a Deployable CanSat.
The device reached a height of about 165 meters, just shy of their 200-meter goal.
Owen Hawkins, business development manager for Surrey Satellite Technology in the United Kingdom, called today`s project "very, very exciting."
"Ghana is quite a small country and they`re already punching above their weight by doing things like that," Hawkins said.