•As newly built nano satellite tracks global airspace

By Emmanuel Elebeke

If the claims by the National Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA, are anything to go by, Nigeria may have become the centre of satellite businesses in the world. It is even more interesting considering that the feat is achieved with locally designed nano Satellite, which appears now to be the technology other countries would have to rely on, should their planes go missing.

Nano satellites are miniaturised satellites of low mass and size, usually under 500kg. They are scientific satellites that study environmental parameters and help mostly in environmental issues.

They study environmental characterisation and also acquire valuable data with the aid of the cameras attached to them.

The agency is claiming that the newly launched nano satellite has the capacity to locate and track every aircraft within and outside Nigerian airspace.

The newly launched satellite is the first nano-satellite in Sub-Saharan Africa designed and built by Nigerian engineers and scientists.

The satellite was launched from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, USA to the International space station and released from the Jasack Module into the appropriate orbit.

The Director-General of the agency, Prof. Mohammed Seidu, said: “I am happy to be part of a country that launched a nano satellite with modern tracking technologies of the airspace. Since launch, we have been orbiting and are in touch with our ground receiving station. The beauty of it is that the ground receiving station was also locally designed and built by our engineers, which means, the coding is known by us and through that, we are able to do a number of things with it.’’

According to him, the ground station of the satellite was built locally in Nigeria and was established in Florida through the base.

He said the nano-satellite affords operators the opportunity to see the Nigerian airspace and as well, track all the aircraft within and outside Nigerian airspace.

‘‘With the Nano satellite, every aircraft within a particular location above us is located, through a special antenna which serves as base station. From the aircraft position, we navigate all the airspace via this antenna, while the ground station also gives accurate data of every air traffic to the control systems. That is why it helps us to keep a surveillance of every aircraft that flies above the airspace.

Seidu said if the satellite was around when the Malaysian plane was reported missing, it wouldn’t have taken time before Nigeria located it for them.

He said: “Like the Malaysian aircraft that got missing, with this system now, we can keep tabs on every aircraft that flies to every location around the world. If it flew within Nigeria, we know the time, the date it flew and it is very cost effective. It can also give you the speed, distance, height, the type of aircraft and then the route it is heading to.

‘‘From the cockpit of the aircraft, we were able to make a triangular quadrant of how planes navigate. With the satellite, all the aircraft within our airspace can be seen real time. Through this system, we have records of all the aircraft that previously flew over Nigeria, including the day, time and date they did.’’

Unfolding plans towards mass deployment of the antennae across the length and breadth of Nigerian airspace, Seidu said the agency was already working with the Federal Aviation administration to get mandate to change the conventional radar system that we have in our airports, adding that with the new technology, flight movements in and outside Nigeria would be easier because it is real time and very cost effective. He also noted that the satellite could guide the pilot in navigating his way in a more convenient way.

However, Nigerian engineers are divided in opinion over the claims. Some who spoke to Hi-Tech on the new development described it as a bogus claim while others said it was long overdue for the country to have such satellite considering the country’s position in Africa and  role it plays in EECOWAS monitoring group, ECOMOG.

Engr. Alphonsus Ezeibe said: “I get tired of people making exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims over very little feats. How did they know the recently launched nano satellite can track and locate planes outside Nigeria’s radar? What is the size of a nano satellite? If the satellite can do all that with its moderate cost, why would any country ever need a bigger satellite which costs fortunes?

He added that “if the country was able to launch a nano satellite to solve our domestic surveillance problems, particularly with earth station designed by fellow Nigerian engineers, that’s a feat worth celebrating. But we must leave it at that without making bogus claims that may blow on our faces tomorrow if called for action.”

However, another Engineer, Ademola Tajudeen, said there was nothing strange about it. “Nigerian engineers are sound. In fact, we are making waves across the world. Designing and launching a surveillance satellite that can help us and others is long overdue. We are the giant of Africa and should be seen leading in such technological advancements. Besides, it is also going to help this economy as the world would need our services on such satellite matters and invariably make us the centre of satellite businesses.

“We should maintain what we have achieved, it could be our meal ticket. The airspace is getting more dangerous by the day and rendering services when it is required could help build a solid Nigerian economy,” he added.

The issue of missing planes has become a global concern. In recent times, a number of aircraft have been declared missing in different countries, without information to their location of crash.

For instance, Malaysian Flight MH370 disappeared en route Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014 with 239 people,mostly Chinese on board, in one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.

Four years after, Malaysia government has kicked off a fresh search for the missing aircraft and has agreed to pay U.S. firm Ocean Infinity up to US$70 million, if it finds the plane within 90 days.

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