Ghana & Nigéria dominate small satellites in West Africa

March 03, 2021 | by: David Kodjani

The miniaturization of satellites brings together the problems associated with reducing the mass of artificial satellites and space probes.

The objective of this weight reduction is to allow the lowering of the launch costs which constitute a very important budgetary item and which are roughly proportional to the mass of the spacecraft. It is also about reducing the energy consumed, the production of which can mobilize up to 30% of the mass of a spacecraft. Miniaturization benefits from advances in electronics and power generation in space. However, it remains difficult today to design a high-performance machine below a mass of between 100 and 200 kg.

The need to produce small satellites comes from the cost of launching satellites, which remains very high. Only national organizations or large companies have sufficiently large budgets to access space. The solution to significantly lower costs was therefore to reduce the weight of the satellites. Institutions with large space budgets are also interested in making small satellites available to ensure one-off and targeted missions that do not justify the launch or mobilization of "large satellites".

Small satellites are placed in several categories according to their dry mass, that is to say without the propellants. These are homogeneous substances used alone or in combination with other substances to provide energy. They are used in a jet propulsion system. This division is not standardized and the space institutions set different limits for the heaviest categories (micro and minisatellites). We thus have the:

  1. Femtosatellite: mass <100 g.
  2. Picosatellite: mass <1 kg
  3. Nanosatellite / CubeSat: mass <10 kg
  4. Microsatellite: mass <100 - 150 kg (NASA <100 kg)
  5. Minisatellite: mass <500 kg (NASA small satellite <180 kg)

As of today only 2 West African countries have small satellites still called CubeSat. These are Nigeria and Ghana.

Nigeria was the first to take the lead in West Africa in 2011 with "NigeriaSat-2" and the "NigeriaSat-X". They are used, among other things, for forest mapping, disaster monitoring and various security and military applications. It was only 6 years later that Ghana followed suit with "GhanaSat-1". The satellite is used to monitor Ghana's coastline for mapping purposes and to build capacity in space science and technology. This project, which lasted 2 years, cost more than 26 million CFA francs.

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