KAMPALA — The African Space Research Program, based in Uganda, has announced that it is ready to launch its first probe into space.
The small probe, or "observer", was developed by Chris Nsamba and a team of student volunteers working in Nsamba’s back yard. His organization, the African Space Research Program, is funded entirely by private donations.
Yet Nsamba says that despite the lack of government support, the observer is fully tested and ready to go.
"It’s done. We have already controlled it via GPS (global positioning system). We have already tested it, and it’s working fine. We are just waiting on the Ugandan president to give us clearance to have it launched into space," Nsamba said.
Nsamba and his team demonstrated their creation for the Ugandan vice president this week, and they are hoping the necessary clearance and funding will follow soon.
The device would be launched using a helium-filled weather balloon, which would float it up to 3.6 kilometers before thrusters kick in. The observer, which took about a year to develop, is equipped with a camera and video camera. Nsamba says it should be able to send live data back to Earth.
But the observer will be doing more than mere observation. On its maiden voyage, he adds, it will also be carrying a live rat.
"The reason it has a rat [is] because we are going to check out our competence of keeping something alive in space. We have oxygen on board which the rat can use.
This oxygen can last that rat around 17 hours," Nsamba said.
Now, says Nsamba, the only thing missing before the observer can be launched is the approval of the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. That, and more helium for the balloon.