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Space Tech: Future of Nigeria’s economy?

By Prince Osuagwu, Emmanuel Elebeke, Tare Youdeowei & Amarachukwu Nwankwo

SINCE the Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, went to the Senate to demand approval to acquire two more new satellites, the argument had been if the venture will benefit Nigeria and its citizens.

The situation was made worse by the minister’s revelation of his intention to approach China-Exim to secure a loan of $550 million for the purpose. For a country undergoing recession, the National Assembly was not convinced that such a huge risk will leapfrog the country from its economic woes

On the streets, Nigerians query the benefits of the one already in orbit before making another investment in not just one, but two more. Put differently, they are asking what it will profit a nation in recession to invest in two satellites and incur a whopping $550 million debt.

However, Shittu has always defended his position: “Now, NigComSat is one of the government agencies, with a satellite in orbit. The potentials and possibilities of this satellite are endless; from customs and excise payments, to national database creation and management, to e-passports but these services are not fully utilized.

Shittu adebayo

“The Federal Government cannot enforce local hosting of data on the lone satellite because without a backup, the nation stands the risk of losing data on it, in event of crash. If we are able to get two more satellites, we will be able to put legislation in place that will compel government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to patronize this local service provider. When that is done, nobody will have an excuse to take Nigeria’s resources outside the country.”

Support widens for space tech

Shittu may have also gained the support of the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, the Director General, National Space Research and Development Agency, NARSDA, Dr. Seidu Mohammed as well as the CEO of Centre for Satellite Technology Development, CSTD, Dr. Spencer Onuh.

The trio who spoke at the CSTD Week in Abuja recently, said  investment in space technology is the way forward for the country to fast-track national development and avoid playing catch-up to other countries of the world. Danbatta said: “Nigeria must take advantage of innovations in space technology to utilize space and the by-products of space technology to make significant strides in optimizing the resources of socio-economic development and solve national problems in consonance with the global sustainable development agenda.

Also, for Mohammed, “What we have continued to remind Nigerians abount is that space technology continues to depict the power of any nation and if you undermine development of space, be it in the area of national security, food security, communication, resources development, we are undermining the development of the nation. What we have created here is an opportunity to leapfrog national development in all areas. We cannot afford to toy with our future. For instance communication satellites in orbit control business activities. The moment you have satellite images that support agriculture, you begin to see that you are capable of monitoring large scale food production and calculate likely shortages and overcome it,” the DG disclosed.

Onuh said, “The conference is designed to highlight the rationale and justification behind Nigeria’s development decisions for going into space. CSTD is fully aware of the enormous responsibility to design and manufacture satellites that would be of immense benefits to Nigerians first and to the rest of the world. Nigeria should take advantage of the innovation in space science and technology and its spin-offs to making significant strides in optimizing the resources available for her space application programmes.”

Benefits of space tech in other countries

Space technology is essentially technology developed by space science or the aerospace industry for use in spaceflight, satellites, or space exploration. It involves spacecraft, satellites, space stations, as well as support infrastructure, equipment, and procedures. World over, economies that have tapped into space technology have come to be more efficient in tracking and positioning using GPS, improved health from telemedicine, enriched baby food production, providing clean drinking water, improved agriculture and food distribution, wireless networks, environmental monitoring and management, disaster warning and relief, educational resources, energy storage and hazard reduction.

For instance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, America’s space agency responsible for aerospace research, and space programmes, developed the Microbial Check Valve, MCV, to ensure safe water for space explorers and has been used on all Space Shuttle missions. Identifying that lack of clean water is a problem for over one billion people on Earth, the MCV technology was deployed in rural areas and developing countries around the world, some of which are Iraq, Mexico and Malaysia.

SERVIR, a satellite visualization system that monitors weather and climate, helps track and combat wildfires, improves land use and agricultural practices, and responds faster to natural disasters. It helped Dominican Republic’s response to extensive flooding from Tropical Storm Noel. The South Asia Drought Monitor, SADM, is also a space technology that supplies timely information on drought onset, progression and areal extent. Remote regions have limited infrastructure, as such space telemedicine technology is being applied in many locations around the world. Intelesense networks in Vietnam, Thailand and Iraq are improving public health monitoring. In Ethiopia, a network links 126 remote medical clinics to 5 hospitals.

In neighbouring Kenya, the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, and their partners through NASA, established SERVIR-Africa in Nairobi, which helps address natural disasters, disease outbreaks, biodiversity and climate change. There is also the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWS NET, in Africa which provides early warning on emerging food security issues.

Nigeria’s foray into satellite business

In Nigeria, there is a National Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA, which was established on August 1, 2001 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, after preparation period that commenced in 1998. Like in other countries of the world, this agency is responsible for harnessing such space tech advantages for the country, having a ground receiving station in Abuja which secured the collaboration of the United Kingdom, China, Ukraine and Russian space technologies.

It was established with the primary objective of having a fundamental policy for the development of space science and satellite technology which span communications, direct-broadcast, earth observation, geosynchronous, military, reconnaissance, navigation, telecom, tracking and data relay and weather. Apparently discovering shortcomings that may not allow the agency achieve maximum results, the government in May 2006, extended national space programme and gave it defined focus areas.

These include: Basic Space Science and Technology, to provide the understanding of how the universe works and what its impact is on the world.

Remote Sensing to help Nigerians understand and manage environmental and natural resources using space-acquired information.

Satellite Meteorology, to study atmospheric and weather sciences using satellite data to facilitate the effective management of the environment.

Communication and Information Technology to provide efficient and reliable telecommunications services for Nigeria in order to enhance the growth of the industrial, commercial and administrative sectors of the economy.

Defence and security: The Federal Government mandated the establishment of a Defence Space Command in the Ministry of Defence. The Command shall comprise representatives of the defence, intelligence, security and law enforcement services and report through the Ministry of Defence to the National Space Council.

Nigeria’s satellites in orbit: Since this mandate, Nigeria has so far launched five satellites into space. The NigeriaSat-1 was the first Nigerian satellite and built by a United Kingdom-based satellite technology company, Surrey Space Technology Limited (SSTL Ltd) under the Nigerian government sponsorship for $30 million.

The satellite was launched by Kosmos-3M rocket from Russian Plesetsk spaceport on September 27, 2003. Nigeriasat-1 was part of the world-wide Disaster Monitoring Constellation System. The primary objectives of the Nigeriasat-1 were: to give early warning signals of environmental disaster; to help detect and control desertification in the northern part of Nigeria; to assist in demographic  planning; to establish the relationship between vectors and the environment that breeds malaria and to give early warning signals on future outbreaks of meningitis using remote sensing technology; to provide the technology needed to bring education to all parts of the country through distant learning; and to aid in conflict resolution and border disputes by mapping out state and International borders.

NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, Nigeria’s third and fourth satellites, were built as a high-resolution earth satellite by SSTL for DMC system also. The NigeriaSat-2/X spacecraft was built at a cost of over £35 million. This satellite was launched into orbit by Ukrainian Dnepr rocket from a Yasny military base in Russia on August 17, 2011.

NigComSat-1, a Nigerian satellite ordered and built in China in 2004, was Nigeria’s second satellite and Africa’s first communication satellite. It was launched on May 13, 2007, aboard a Chinese Long March 3B carrier rocket, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China. The spacecraft was operated by NigComSat and the Nigerian Space Agency, NASRDA. On November 11, 2008, NigComSat-1 failed in orbit after running out of power due to an anomaly in its solar array.

It was based on the Chinese DFH-4 satellite bus, and carried a variety of transponders designed to provide coverage to many parts of Africa, and the Ka band transponders would also cover Italy. On November 10, 2008 (0900 GMT), the satellite was reportedly switched off for analysis and to avoid a possible collision with other satellites.

According to Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, it was put into “emergency mode operation in order to effect mitigation and repairs.” The satellite eventually failed after losing power on November 11, 2008.

On March 24, 2009, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, NigComSat Ltd. and CGWIC signed a further contract for the in-orbit delivery of the NigComSat-1R satellite. NigComSat-1R was also a DFH-4 satellite, and was delivered on 19 December 2011 as a replacement for the failed NigComSat-1. Ironically, the founding DG of NASRDA, Prof. Robert Ajayi Boroffice, once predicted at a public lecture on space technology development that Nigeria will be able to build indigenous satellites in the country without foreign assistance by 2018. However, it appears that the dream may not hold; not when Nigeria is frantically shopping for foreign money to build local satellite in a foreign country.

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