By Emmanuel Elebeke
Nigerians woke up on November 12, 2008 to the sad news that the country’s communications satellite, was missing. Although the satellite has long been replaced by the original builders, China Great Wall Inc, the mass outrage that followed the mishap, was unbelievable.
That satellite cost the country, about N40 billion and that is not child’s play.
However, the then Managing Director of Nigerian Communications Satellite, NIGCOMSAT limited, Engr Ahmed Rufai came out to explain that the satellite was de-orbited following a fault in the solar panel. It was not peculiar to Nigeria alone, many countries of the world had lost their satellites in such a manner.
As a matter of fact, Rufai said that either technical faults or natural causes could de-orbit a functional satellite and have it packed in a place called ‘graveyard in the space.’
But he nearly drew the ire of the people when he demanded the National Assembly to immediately approve the building of two more satellites.
However, it now seems that what Rufai advocated then is still what is going to happen if Nigeria is to avert the loss of another satellite.
This is following a warning from another satellite expert and Director of Centre for Atmospheric Research, Kogi State, Prof Babatunde Rabiu, that Nigeria stands a risk of losing another satellite if more back ups are not built immediately.
Rabiu did not stop at that. He also revealed that even the satellite we have now can neither trace Boko Haram nor solve the insurgency in Nigeria.
Interestingly, Rabiu disclosed this at Abuja, the seat of power, during the satellite Technology Development week, held at Obasanjo Space centre, last week.
Our satellite can’t see Boko Haram
According to him, “the earth observation satellite Nigeria currently has cannot pick activities on ground in real time because of its passage time. It will be unthinkable for anyone to begin to expect the satellite to be a potent weapon for counter insurgency in the country, pending when more satellites are built”
“Besides, when the satellite passes through a point, it takes another four days before it passes that point again. But if we have three, four, five satellites moving in constellation, you can have the areas covered for twenty-four hours straught and movement can then be spotted and monitored,” he said.
He however, called for development of home grown small satellites across the country, which he said could support government to solve the varying insurgency challenges facing the country.
The Indian example or another satellite may go
The Don however, warned that Nigeria stands to lose another satellite if nothing is done to build back up satellites and learning the rope of developing local capacity, the Indian way.
“NigComSat1 may not be the only Satellite Nigeria will lose because space environment is a very dynamic place. With the interruption of space-based facilities, poor performance of satellite, interruption of space satellite drag, satellite loss, instability in space environment, navigation errors, failed signals, any satellite could get lost,” he said. For him, the country has to get it right from the beginning as the instability and inconsistency in space environment could be disastrous.
Prof. Rabiu said space technology has justified its relevance in driving major developmental strides in the area of agriculture, weather monitoring, air navigation, land survey, supply of satellite imagery, good governance, promoting quality of living, control of immigration, tourism, public safety and mobile technology among others, adding that space technology has a lot of benefits if Nigeria accord it more priority.
Plugging capital flight in satellite sector
He stressed the need for domestication of satellite technology with small satellite development in Nigeria, which he said is capable of saving the country of capital flight it has recorded since its first move into the space.
According to him, the only way Nigeria can achieve this is by building a space environment, which will provide the local engineers the opportunity to compete with the rest of the world.
He assured that the space agency would continue to be part of national development.
Earlier in his speech, the Director and Chief Executive for Satellite Technology Development, CSTD, Dr. Spencer Onuh said the week was aimed at merging the benefits and untapped potentials from the previous CSTD week conferences. He said this years’ approach would help the Centre create awareness to the public on the sustainable socio-economic benefits of Space technology.
Dr. Onuh who lamented the low awareness of space technology sector in Nigeria urged Nigerians to accord similar priority attached to other sectors to it.“Unfortunately, we are in an environment where people see less relevance on space technology and feel more prominence should be placed on other sectors such as agriculture, security, education, military and so on.