History is Made As Nigeria Launches Two Satellites into Orbit

Determined to firm up its drive towards technological advancement, especially in relation to Information Communications Technology (ICT), Nigeria on Wednesday launched two satellites in faraway Russia after several postponements. The launch was earlier scheduled for July 7.

The construction and launch of the satellites is estimated to have cost Nigeria N17.42 billion, however the Head of Media and Corporate Affairs of Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSDA), Mr. Felix Ale, however declined to comment on the cost. He insisted that only the Director General, Seidu Mohammed, who is currently in Russia for the launch could comment on the cost.

One unique feature of this launch is that an experimental satellite built wholly by Nigerian engineers and known as Nigeria Sat X will also be launched at the same time with the earth observation satellite called NigeriaSat2.

NigeriaSat X operated by Nigerian engineers and scientists has a 2.5-metre high spatial resolution sensor as a strength point. The Nigerian professionals who trained abroad were said to have successfully designed and built the experimental satellite called NigeriaSat-X.

The second satellite, NigeriaSat2, is currently in its seventh year in orbit and is a follow-up to the manifestation of the technological innovation behind the design and implementation of the satellite system called NigeriaSat-1 which was launched on September 27, 2003 with a lifespan of five years.

The satellite is a medium resolution multi-spectral low orbiting sun synchronous satellite. It is part of the world-wide Disaster Monitoring Constellation System. Images of the country obtained from the satellite are beamed back to the control station for use by the government.

It can be used for demography such as mapping and planning of population surveys, census enumeration areas, as well as mapping, planning and monitoring of rural and urban growth and to also give advance warnings of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and storms.

Furthermore, it can be used to avoid or manage any occurrence of man-made disasters like oil pollution, desertification, erosion, forest fire, and deforestation. In agriculture, it is used for mapping, land use planning, management of sustainable grazing, forest logging, planning afforestation programmes, crop inventory and yield forecast.

Nigeria had in the quest for technological relevance and empowerment embarked on the task of procuring its own satellites that has so far led to the launch of two. Apart from NigeriaSat 1, a second satellite, a communications satellite called Nigeria Communications Satellite NIGCOMSAT, was also launched in May 2007 in China, but Nigeria lost the second satellite in orbit due to a fault with the solar panel caused by a cut to the fuel supply link of the panel resulting in a solar flare.

The loss of the satellite at the time generated furore that led to calls that Nigeria should stop investing in costly satellite technology but should concentrate on investing in technologies that would bridge the digital divide at lesser cost to the country. But the furore soon died down, when the Chinese authorities promised to replace the lost satellite at no cost to Nigeria.

The replaced satellite tagged NIGCOMSAT R is said to be 75 per cent completed and expected to be launched at the end of the year.

The NigComSat1 experiment was set in motion during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was conceived as a follow up to the nation’s first satellite in orbit, Nigeria Satellite NigerSat1. The NigComSat project was seen as an answer to the country’s quest for technological advancement and a window through which Nigeria hoped to stamp its feet on the consciousness of the global community as a nation to be reckoned with in ICT. The Nigeria Satellite 1, which was facilitated by NARSDA, paved the way for NigComSat1 valued at about $250 million.

The contract, which was signed in December 2004 between NARSDA and the Great Wall Industry Corporation of China, led to the Chinese company designing, developing, manufacturing and launching the satellite into orbit in May, 2007. China was awarded the deal after it outbid 21 international rivals, including, Britain and the United States to secure the multi-million dollar deal.

The contract package included the cost of the satellite, construction, insurance, value added tax (VAT) as well as the price for building one ground control station in Abuja and a backup control station in Kashi, China.

The satellite has four gateways said to be located in South Africa, China, Italy and Northern Nigeria. The satellite is supposed to have a lifespan of 15 years and is to be monitored and tracked by a ground station built in Abuja while the Chinese firm, Great Wall Industry Corporation, through its ground station in Kashgar, in North-west China is to monitor it.

The satellite, a hybrid communications facility, has a fuel payload that is meant to maintain it in orbit for a maximum of 15 years.

It featured two L-Band transponders, eight Ka Band transponders, four C-Band transponders and 14 KU-Band transponders.

The new replacement satellite, NIGCOMSAT-1R, is said to have similar features with the lost satellite but with few modifications. It is a geostationary satellite with C, Ku, Ka and L bands. The Chinese are said to be enhancing, testing and retesting the new satellite to forestall the possibility of another mishap, but only time will tell if they have succeeded or not.

Nigeria’s investment in satellites is expected to yield several benefits. Those who support the nation’s investments in satellite technology have said it will enable Internet access to even the remotest rural villages, a major quest of stakeholders in recent times. It is also expected to enhance government’s economic reforms, particularly in the areas of e-learning, e-commerce, tele-medicine, tele-education and rural telephony.

The project is also expected to help Nigeria save about $450 million annually spent on the importation of bandwidth from Europe and America to facilitate Internet access, telephony and broadcasting according to the Minister of Science and Technology, Ita Ewa.

Satellite technology is expected to help play key roles in e-commerce by improving government efficiency and promoting the development of the digital economy in Nigeria and Africa. It is expected to bring down the cost of GSM and Internet services in the country as a result of the availability of cheaper satellite bandwidth and help Nigeria break free from its over-reliance on oil trade and transform itself into a knowledge-based economy. Indeed, Ewa recently reiterated that satellite technology would advance Nigeria’s global in readiness rating which is currently pegged at 127th position in the world.