Satelite Technology Firms Scramble for Nigeria's Second Satellite Contract

Different satellite builders and service providers from around the world are at the moment polishing their briefcases ready to storm Nigeria to slug it out for who grabs the contract to build the country’s second communications satellite.

According to reliable sources, the process of getting the second and possibly third satellites off ground would begin immediately after the launch of NigComSat-1R later in the year.

NigComSat-1R is the replacement of Nigeria’s communications satellite, NigComSat-1, which developed faults and was subsequently de-orbited in November 2008, 18 months after it was launched.

After attempts by NigComSat engineers and the satellite manufacturer, China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) failed to rescue the satellite, China Wall settled for a replacement, resulting in the NigComSat-1R which is reported to be nearing completion and ready to launch by the fourth quarter of this year.

The country seems to have realised that those going into the business of communications satellite must provide back-ups against any eventuality. This is particularly, when it has become obvious that a communication satellite would help a country like Nigeria, in strengthening broadcast operations, boost broadband development, monitor and track railway, sea and air haulages, on different routes, just as it would equally help in controlling national security issues.

This eventually makes the Nigerian communications satellite contract, plum for world renowned satellite builders and indeed, at the recently concluded Satellite Communications, SATCOM Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, interests were high among satellite builders, service providers and ancillary operators on who grabs the contract. Most of the arguments on why companies other than the China Great Wall should secure the contract included that Chinese companies were allegedly amateurs in satellite business.

However, Nigerian officials including engineers, who attended the event, did not buy any of the arguments but rather maintained that the major edge to securing the contract was a superior technology transfer business policy.

Communications Commission, NCC, Engr Bashir Gwandu, on enhancing Africa’s access to ICTs via satellite, multitude of satellite builders and launchers from Europe and America swarmed around to enquire on activities surrounding the contract of the second and third satellites for Nigeria.

Some of them openly signified interest, arguing that their long standing experience would give Nigeria’s space experience some boost.

Although Gwandu in reply to those requests openly declared that he was in no position to know or determine who grabs the contract or not, he however told them that the Nigerian government was highly interested in those that can transfer satellite technology knowledge to the army of Nigerian engineers so that they can become satellite builders and launchers in the future.

According to him, “it’s unfortunate that most of you signifying interest do not have business models that support transfer of technology and Nigeria does not have the leisure of spending huge sums of money to build satellites when her engineers can do little or nothing if anything goes wrong in it.

“If you are not interested in taking Nigerian engineers through the length and breadth of what it takes to do what you are doing, sorry, we may not be interested in your offer.

We are not going to be stampeded or blackmailed with how amateur the Chinese companies are in satellite manufacture or launching but if they are the ones that can open our engineers’ eyes in this technology, let them have it,” he added. Gwandu noted that even satellites built by world renowned corporations also fail.

The satellite industry, like others, has its share of mishaps. Hotbird 3, owned and operated by Eutelsat had its solar array damaged in October 2006. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency lost its MTSAT 1R in April 2006. The satellite failed to operate and lost attitude on 16 April. However, it was regained 16 hours later.

This happened about a year after it was originally launched. PanAmSat lost its PAS 6 communication satellite in 2004 due to significant loss of power. It was built by the highly reputable SpaceSystems/Loral (SS/L)

Even recently Satellite fleet operator Intelsat, reported, that one of the two principal reflector antennas on its just-launched New Dawn telecommunications satellite for South Africa failed to deploy in orbit and that release of the other antenna will await attempts to force the first one to spring loose.