The Use of Satellite-Based Technology in Developing Countries

A satellite is regarded as a body that orbits around another body in space. Two types of satellites- natural and man-made exist.Natural satellites are the Earth and Moon while a man-made satellite is a machine that is launched into space and orbits around a body in space.Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) provides the channel of communications when a satellite is launched into space.

About fifty nine years ago, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy presented the USA with a historic challenge: To put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. His dramatic 1961 speech jump-started NASA’s Apollo programme which was able to put Neil Armstrongand Buzz Aldrin on a world beyond earth on July 20, 1969. Later Apollo missions eventually landed astronauts on the moon.

Even though Apollo came to an end in 1972, the impact of Kennedy’s historic speech lingers on today. Space exploration was able to put Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in space and the launching of Sputnik I by the Soviets. Subsequent developments made it possible for the launching of the space station and for the US to undertake several missions into space. This was a giant leap into space technology and a huge boost to American technological pride.

Based on contemporary trends, we know the global space economy will continue to grow, according to a recent report issued by the Space Foundation. The advent of satellite technology has generated renewed interest in space science. We now have several satellites circling the earth. And, over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a transition from mini-satellites, to micro satellites to nano-satellites, to pico-satellites, and others. Today, we have Reconnaissance satellite (Satellites that observe the Moon and the planets); Aqua and Aura satellites (satellites that observe planet Earth); Astronomy satellite; Communication satellite; Navigation satellite; Weather satellite; Rescue and search satellite, and others. Transit satellites help stir ships at sea to safer course while others warn us about natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, volcanoes, and storms. The increase in small satellites, the use of low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the launches on reusable rocket launch vehicles are some of the most important developments to satellite technology.

Increasingly, space products and services are becoming integrated into consumer electronics and daily necessities. Telecommunications, earth observation and positioning and navigation systems are space applications that dominate the space business. Satellite communications plays a pivotal role in enabling innovative mobility services on trains, cargo vehicles and maritime vessels. And satellite technology plays a vital role in The “Internet of Things” (also called The Internet of Objects), a concept coined by Peter Lewis in 1985 to refer to a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

Practical applications of IoT technology can be found in many areas today, in agriculture, in healthcare, in management, in transportation, in home automation (also known as domotics), and others. Today, we talk about “smart cities” where we have intelligent traffic and parking management, and automated building resource management. We refer to smart traffic control and remote vehicle control systems where we see self-driving vehicles that communicate with each other, the road, pedestrians, and street lights. We refer to smart environment where programmes like solid waste management using sensor intelligence and location tracking are helping to create a cleaner, greener environment. We talk about smart health where medical personnel and health care providers deliver health services to remote populations via a network that supports voice, video and intelligent medical devices. And there is talk about smart agriculture where precision farming based on data from field sensors can be used to maximize crop production. Storage facilities can also be controlled for these parameters to minimize spoilage. Real time agricultural and weather updates to mobile devices is expected to keep farmers informed of critical and actionable information. All these are due to advances in satellite technology. Such technologies are compelling because they make the things around us smarter and more interactive.

GPS navigation systems and geo-location applications are now found in cars, phones, homes and businesses. This has provided endless possibilities for social networking and information-sharing.  Countries are now realizing the strategic and economic value of space.

The media industries is not left out in this new frontier. The industry is using satellite technology to deliver high-definition TV to households, provide Internet access in remote areas and give people access to location-based applications on mobile phones.

The general perception about space science is that it is the preserve of the developed countries who have the resources to fund space science programmes and activities. The developing world often lacks funds, expertise, equipment and others to explore this new frontier. While this is true to a large extent, we know emerging economies such as Singapore, India, China, and South Korea have made tremendous progress in space exploration. For example, China plans to have a manned space station by 2020 while India plans to launch its first astronauts into space soon. Africa should not be left behind in the exploration of this new frontier.

It has been said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties.We need to begin from somewhere. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “we need to set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours”.

One of the private universities in Ghana, All Nations University has taken the first step in this direction by launching a Cubesat shape satellite weighing 1,000 grams into orbit, the Ghanasat-1. It was released from the International Space Station (ISS) into orbit via Japan/KIBO Deployment system onboard the ISS on July 7, 2017.This is a journey of innovation and as a country, we need to develop policies and guidelines in this area.

Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President

African Virtual Campus

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