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25 August 2017

Akufo-Addo Launches Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on Thursday inaugurated the Ghana Astronomy Radio Observatory at Kuntunse in the Greater Accra Region, describing the development as the beginning of a new era in the country’s quest to harness the potential of space science and technology for accelerated national development.

The new era, he said, would not only witness the deepening of knowledge and skills development in electronics and information and communications technology (ICT) for Ghanaian scientists but also enhance their capacity to contribute to the world body of knowledge in the ever expanding field of astronomy and space science.

By the launch of the observatory, Ghana becomes the first partner country of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometer Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of the 32-metre Intelsat Telecommunications Satellite Earth Station at Kuntunse into a functioning radio telescope.

Memorandum of Understanding

Prior to the inauguration, Ghana and eight other African countries involved in an international project to build the world’s largest radio telescope signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate for the successful implementation of the project.

The eight countries are South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

As part of the project, the participating countries have also initiated the network, AVN, which will be a new African network of telescopes to be integrated with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The AVN project aims at establishing a network of self-sufficient radio telescopes in Africa through the conversion of redundant telecommunication antennas into radio telescopes.

Bold decision

The President recounted how, in 2007, Ghana under the leadership of President John Agyekum Kufuor, took the bold decision to sign up to the African SKA partnership agreement, headed by South Africa.

That decision, he explained, was made at a time when Ghana did not have any programme in astronomy, saying it was an example of the bold and visionary leadership of the time, its purpose being to propel the country to the enviable league of countries pursuing space science.

President Nana Akufo-Addo expressed the hope that the “integration of this radio telescope into the AVN, in preparation for the second phase of the construction of the SKA across the African continent, will be successful”.

Reference to GhanaSat-1

Making reference to the recent successful launch into orbit of GhanaSat-1, a satellite developed by three students of the All Nations University College, a private university in Koforidua, in partnership with their Japanese counterparts at the Kyushu Institute of Technology (KIT), President Nana Akufo-Addo said the launch was an indication that Ghana abounded in rich talents.

He said the government was very pleased to see Ghanaian talents shining, with even greater promise for the future.

He reiterated the commitment of the government to continue to develop the human capital needed for the sustainable implementation of the country’s space programmes, particularly enhancing its human resource capacity in astronomy research.

“We have big plans for our national space development programme. These include the establishment of a National Space Data Centre for satellite data collection, management and application. This comprehensive programme will involve the establishment of a national satellite ground receiving station and the launch of satellites.

“The radio telescope being launched today will expand further our frontiers in space science. I am informed that the radio telescope will provide information from distant bodies in the universe that will help us understand the birth and formation of stars, the death of stars and the general structure of the universe,” he said.

Global warming

President Nana Akufo-Addo was hopeful that the facility would help Ghanaians appreciate the reality and complexity of global warming and its harmful effects, such as rising sea levels, coastal erosion, an erratic rainfall pattern, prolonged and intense dry seasons, desertification and the reduction of vegetation cover on our lives.

“It is for this reason that we, as humans and caretakers of our earth, should not compound the pressures on our fragile planet through harmful activities such as illegal mining and logging and the production of greenhouse gases,” he added.

Recognising the role of science and technology in the socio-economic development of the country, the President said he had charged the Ministry of Education and that of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation to step up efforts in developing a potent Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational model for Ghana that would stimulate the interest of pupils and students in engineering sciences and technology.

Presidential Advisory Council

With the establishment, shortly, of a Presidential Advisory Council on Science, Technology and Innovation (PACSTI), President Akufo-Addo reiterated his pledge to significantly raise funding for research and development (R&D) in science, technology and innovation from 0.25 per cent of GDP to one per cent of GDP in the short to medium term, and increased further to 2.5 per cent of GDP in the long term.

“It will form the National Science, Technology and Innovation Fund to support R&D in all research institutions and universities, both public and private. At the same time, the government will make efforts to increase collaboration among research institutions, industry, especially the private sector, and political authorities at all levels. These measures, I hope, will make the transition from research to product development and industrial production much easier,” he added.

Background

The South African Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, who is the Chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee of the AVN, said a vital part of the effort towards building SKA on the African continent over the next decade was to develop the skills, regulations and institutional capacity needed in SKA partner countries to optimise African participation in the SKA.

The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, said Ghana and South Africa announced the combination of first light science observations which confirmed the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecom instrument into a functioning very long baseline interferometry radio telescope in July 2017.

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