With the rapid growth in the African Space Industry, it is important that skills and man-power needed to match the growth is available in Africa – it’s 2018 and it is important for Africa to lean towards putting some form of limit to the outsourcing of the development of space technologies for its usage. The story of how China bugged the African Union’s Chinese-built headquarters for more than five years, gaining access to confidential information is still fresh and it is an indication that Africa need to build its technology by itself.
In this series, we are featuring the most promising aerospace engineers from Africa who are building amazing space technologies – these are the future of Space Technologies development in Africa.
In this interview with Space in Africa, Ibukun shared his experience growing up and how he is making significant impacts in the Space industry.
How was it like growing up? Tell us about your educational background?
My primary, secondary and tertiary studies were done in Akure, Nigeria. I had always wanted to be an engineer, so I had a natural flair for the sciences, especially physics. I eventually studied mechanical engineering at the Federal University of Technology, Akure.
How did you get involved in Space?
My interest in space peaked when I observed a full solar eclipse in Saki, Nigeria in 2006. The accuracy with which the duration of the eclipse was predicted deeply impressed me . There, Dr. Babatunde Rabiu (now Professor of Atmospheric Physics) explained the phenomenon and the predicted timeline of future eclipses and that was the seed for what is turning out to be a full fledged career in space engineering.
The first project i worked on is the BIRDS satellite project. It is a multinational satellite project executed by the Kyushu Institute of Technology, Japan in partnership with institutions from other non spacefaring countries. As a pioneer member of the project, and part of the Nigerian team, I was responsible for the structure and configuration design, as well as implementing the qualification campaign and associated safety documentation for the project. In the BIRDS project, we built five(5) identical 1U CubeSats. Besides Nigeria, other participating countries were Ghana, Mongolia, Bangladesh and Japan.
I also designed a 2U CubeSat for a scientific mission run by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. The Space Precision Atomic Timing Utility Mission (SPATIUM I) uses a chip scale atomic clock in3D mapping of the ionoshere. The mission commenced with the ISS release in October, 2018 and is still underway. I also implemented the mechanical qualification tests for this project, as well as associated safety documentation.
Every year since 2015 a new BIRDS project is started. Participants are from non-space faring countries. For more information check the official website: http://www.birds-project.com/
How does it feel building space systems and developing components that are currently orbiting the Earth?
It feels great and fulfilling
Do you think small satellites are the future?
Small satellites are now used for increasingly sophisticated scientific missions with almost same reliability as the relatively bigger ones, so yes, small satellites have a major role to play in future missions. On the other hand, some missions by nature are not small, for example, the ISS is not “small” in that sense. The fast development time,cheaper price and increased reliability of “very” small satellites make them an attractive option for doing space missions.
And what do you think about the debris small satellites are causing?
In my opinion, the severity of a debris scenario is a function of the satellite altitude. Most small satellites (CubeSats) are deployed in the low earth orbit (LEO) and typically reenter the atmosphere in few years and at this point do not pose a significant threat.
40% of satellites launched by African Nations were launched in the past 2 years – how would you rate the rapid growth of the African Space Industry?
It is an interesting statistic. It reflects that there is an increasing awareness of the benefits space science and technology holds for the African community. Going forward, I anticipate more satellite projects done by Africans for Africans.
Many young Africans like yourself still have to travel out of Africa for advanced studies on critical subjects that relate to satellite development; don’t you think its high time Africa stepped up its game on this?
Capacity development is an important process, but its also gradual. At this time, the important thing is balance. Building a skilled workforce is important, providing a suitable environment for them to thrive and develop others is also more important. When there is a good balance between the two, there will be significant progress.
What do you think about the proposed African Space Agency?
It is a good idea. Coming together to solve common problems with space technology is always a good idea.
Would you mind telling us about your PhD research?
The central theme of my work is focused on improving spacecraft assembly, integration and testing, especially in mass production scenarios.
This is a tough one. I would say “pay attention to what’s going on in your environment”. It is important to know what’s going on in order to become useful in solving global problems.
Any last words?
Never give up.