KOFORIDUA, Ghana Their goal might not sound like much: The college students plan Wednesday to launch a tiny model of a satellite the size of a Coke can a mere 200 yards into the air.
Yet in this developing West African country that recently launched the Ghana Space Science and Technology Center, ambitious organizers hope it's a sign of 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.
A main goal of the project is to bolster interest among students for Ghana's space program, which is behind those in several other sub-Saharan African countries, notably powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa.
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.
Wednesday's project, though, starts with just a big balloon to carry aloft the miniature model of a satellite, known as a Deployable CanSat.
At All Nations University on Wednesday, students and researchers hope to monitor images and other information sent from the model as it descends to the ground. Whether their CanSat clears 200 meters, however, is out of their hands.
"One of the factors is weather," Quarshie said. "We are actually trusting in God to give us a very fair weather condition."
Rainy weather delayed the event Wednesday afternoon.
This will be the first time Ghana has sent a Deployable CanSat into the air, said Manfred Quarshie, director of the Intelligent Space Systems Laboratory at All Nations University College in Koforidua.
Six students spent three months preparing the model, outfitting it with sensors, cameras and Global Positioning System technology, Quarshie said.
Owen Hawkins, business development manager for Surrey Satellite Technology in the United Kingdom, called Wednesday'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.
By contrast, Nigeria has used outside help to develop its satellites, including partnering with Surrey. The country now has two earth-observation satellites, one of which Nigerian engineers were involved in building, Hawkins said.