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Nigeria And Space Technology

Last week, two observation satellites belonging to Nigeria were launched in Russia. Christened Nigeria Sat-X and Nigeria Sat-2, the satellites had been in the works for some time, and were on test-runs until early this month. According to information released on them, Nigeria Sat-X was built by Nigerian engineers who had previously undergone training in the design and building of satellites and other spacecraft, while Nigeria Sat-2 is the outcome of a joint effort with British scientists.

Nigeria Sat-2 was described as a high-resolution satellite with a minimum of 32mm panchromatic (black and white) view, and 5 m multispectral (colour) GSD across a 20 km swath width, meaning it is capable of producing images that are highly sensitive to all colours. It is also reported to be an improvement on NigSat-1 satellite, which was launched in 2003 with a five-year lifespan.

The utility of the project is primarily in disaster monitoring and management.

Unlike its predecessor that was equipped with standard disaster monitoring parameters, the Nigeria Sat-2 has the additional capacity of providing medium resolution data, with a capacity to capture scenery as large as 640 x 560 kilometres, suitable in monitoring pollution, land use, drought and other environmental hazards.

Both new satellites are designed to provide Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) and the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) with high resolution imaging capability.

Under the management of NASRDA, the satellites are also designed to pinpoint individual buildings, roads or fields of interest from space and will be used to provide data for urban planning, which, if properly used could be important to Nigeria’s rapidly-expanding cities.

In a pre-launch briefing, NASRDA’s Head, Media and Corporate Affairs, Mr. Felix Ale, said that the technology would be used principally for resource management and mapping within the Nigerian territory, adding that the satellites would provide a high resolution system to map Nigeria once every four months, and would last for seven years.

Behind all the mumbo-jumbo however is the question whether these ventures into space technology are another drainpipe on the nation’s resources. There is also the dubious efficacy of the technology when applied to its intended use.

This would not be the first time that Nigeria would enter the space race, and have its finger severely burnt, and causing a deep hole in the treasury.

In 2008, a communications satellite, NigComSat-1, built by the Chinese at cost of nearly 40 billion naira (340 million dollars) failed, eighteen months after its launch. The scandal of that episode has never been properly addressed, even when Nigerian officials boasted that insurance would pay for a replacement. That has not happened.

Clearly, the idea behind the project is good. The problem, as we have seen in the past, is its management and maintenance to ensure that it works and that it is cost-effective.

How would this project be managed to provide a working interface with relevant government agencies, like National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Nigerian Meteorological Office, for instance? To what extent would the imaging that the satellites produce influence the work of various ministries relevant to its work, like works, urban development, etc?

The Nigeria Sat-2 is reported to cost 55 million dollars. In all, the construction and launch of both satellites cost the nation 17.42 billion naira, according to NASRDA Director General, Dr S. O. Mohammed.

It is all very well to use space technology to address earthly problems; the challenge however is to ensure that the nation derives maximum and intended benefits from such investments.

As the China experience has shown, it is important the country should guard against falling victim to peddlers of dubious technology who take advantage of weak accountability among Nigerian leaders to make quick money.

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