The Story of the Nigerian Satellite
By Adeyeye Joseph

A satellite of many colours...

Like Nigeria, a satellite is made up of many diverse and intricately complex parts. But what makes NigerSat-1, the first wholly owned Nigerian satellite, much more Nigerian is not its complex nature but the unusual collaborative efforts that went into its making. The payload, that is the main part of the satellite, was built by a team of British Engineers, closely under-studied by 15 Nigerian engineers, the rockets were made by Russians and the project one of seven, jointly undertaken by a seven nation team, Turkey, Algeria, China, UK, Nigeria, Vietnam and Thailand.

However, these facts have in no way belittled the sense of accomplishment felt by the brains behind the project. That is, the ministry of science and technology, the federal government. After all, the satellite, lock, stock and barrel, is wholly Nigeria-owned. Also, the nation for the first would enjoy, sell and even give out telecommunication benefits it used to pay for. More than that, Nigeria will also be entering the books as the first black nation to send a satellite into space and the third African nation after South Africa and Algeria to do so.

The advantages are limitless even though a satellite is an expensive toy. But Nigerians like millions of people all over the world, today enjoy some of the by-products of the discoveries and applications of space science and technology.

It was while scientists were making efforts to produce better emulsions for astronomical purposes that they stumbled into the discovery of gold sensitisation in the development of images. A discovery used by KODAK to revolutionise photography.

And like space, space science is vast and seemingly limitless, so also are the possibilities. In the developed worlds both scientists and administrators are made dizzy by these possibilities. In a little way, Nigerian leaders, of recent, have also become enamoured with these prospects. The federal government's decision to embrace space technology even though Nigeria, as it stands now lacks the requisite technology to build satellite or rockets, is a product of this attraction. The government sees, in the NigerSat-1 project, an opportunity for Nigeria to jump-start a beneficial space program.

"It is a technology which enables us to understand our land, air and water resources and problems associated with them. It also deals with meteorological factors, the study of atmospheric and weather sciences, using satellite data to facilitate the effective management of our environment," a spokesperson of the National Space Research and Development Agency had said.

Rightly said. Nigeria, with her huge size, 923,768 sq km(an estimated 1200km from east to west and about 1050km from north to south) has always grappled, unsuccessfully with the equally huge task that monitoring her environment and the activities going on within her borders has become.

Primarily, government, intends to rely on satellite imaging to prevent disasters such as floods, landslides, locust infestations, oil spillages, landslides, coastal erosions, oil spillages and bush fires.

But with government losing an estimated 200-300000 bpd to pipeline vandalisation, it is believed that NigerSat-1 would also play a role on security.

From NTA to NITEL...

Although, the proposed launch has given the possibility that Nigerians would soon benefit from satellite service an air of novelty, Nigerians rely on satellite technological services more than they realise.

Far long the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) relied and is still relying on satellite technology to distribute network programmes to NTA stations located within the federation.

For this NTA made use of fixed satellite services. It is also used by NITEL and VSAT operators for the carriage of high-level international traffic. For these services, NITEL pays rent to satellite owning companies for every piece of data sent outside of Nigeria. These services are provided by two major global satellite services company, INTELSAT and PANAMSAT

Nigeria did not embrace mobile satellite technology till 1988 when efforts made by some Nigerians for and on behalf of INMARSAT a mobile Satellite service group paid off.

In the beginning this move met with NITEL's disapproval as the national carrier then insisted that the move would make her lose huge revenue. However, the Ministry of Communications dismissed NITEL's opposition when it was realised that people in the rural areas where NITEL had no infrastructure could rely on mobile satellite technology for their satellite telecommunications needs.

In order to pacify and compensate NITEL for 'loss of revenue' the FG ordered that the regulatory function be shared between NITEL and the ministry of communication. NITEL made a windfall issuing licenses for INMARSAT users at $10000 a license and charging $5/minute on traffic.

Awaking the snoring giant...

For long the Nigerian leadership saw nothing in space science. It saw that aspect of science as expensive and of little to a developing country. In the highest quarters, it was believed that it promised few tangible rewards. But that change with the advent of the Obasanjo administration. The National Space Research and Development Agency was revitalised and moves to construct the satellites began in 2000.

According to then Transport Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, the federal government in 2001, allocated N3billion to the advancement of space science l. Out of the sum, N2.5 billion were given to the agency over a period of 3 years.

It also set up a National Council on Space Science Technology to oversee the programme, to underscore the importance with which government viewed the programme, President Olusegun Obasanjo was the chairman while Vice President Abubakar Atiku was the vice chairman.

Initially the public met the program with scepticism and the government had to strove to defend insinuations that it was yet another white elephant project.

"I think it is one of the best things Nigeria has done because in the current globalisation Nigerians should be boasting of their hi-tech and appropriate tech so that we can no work together and take adv of where we are strong and we believe that it is critically important that Nigeria should be present in this area,"

By 2000 the government had signified interest in building a micro satellite as part of a DMC (Disaster Monitoring Consortium) through the National Space Research and Development Agency (Nigeria). Other bodies which signified interest included, the Orgs-Centre National Techniques Spatialese (Algeria) Ministry of Science and Tech (China) TUBITAK-ODTU (Turkey), Mahanakom University of Technology Bangkok Thailand, National Centre for Science and Tech (Vietnam) British National Space Centre (UK) Surrey Satellite Technical Limited (UK)

The agreement was that the six out of the seven micro satellites be constructed in the UK while the 7th was built at MUT, a university in Bangkok. MUT had earlier built one with SSTL in 1988 under a Know-How Transfer and Training (KHTT) programme the type, which Algeria, Nigeria and Turkey opted for.

First to launch was Algeria, which launched AISAT-1 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Western Siberia the same place where Nigeria is set to launch hers.

The Algerian satellite provided Nigerian engineers, pictures of what Nigerians were to expect when NigerSat-1 is launched. It weighed 90kg had hitech earth imaging camera which provide 32 metres resolution imaging in 3 spectra bands (NIR, red, Green) with an extremely wide imaging swath of 600km on the ground that enables a revisit of the same area anywhere in the world at least every 4 days with just a single satellite.

It's not what you think...

Satellites come in different types and just like any other commodity are very expensive or very cheap. The seeds for the actualisation of the Nigerian dream began long before Nigeria became much interested in space science. The DMC concept was first introduced in 1996 by Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey (SSTL) at the International Astronautical Federation Congress held in Beijing.

SSTL is a subsidiary of the University of Surrey, UK, the idea it introduced was one whereby satellites could be made available to third world countries by the combination of the expensive tech of the West and not to so expensive of the East.

A typical satellite weighs between 1000 and 4000kg, a small one between 500-1000kg and a mini satellite between 100-500kg while a micro satellite weighs between 10-100kg a nano satellite weigh s less than 10kg.All these are without the payload. The first satellite launched by man Sputnik launched by the Russians in October 4, 1957 weighed 83.5kg.

What Nigeria is launching is a micro satellite, a satellite that moves within the low earth orbit (LEO). That is a distance within a range of 250-2000km above the earth surface. Typical satellites moved in GEOSTATIONARY Earth Orbits (GEO) that is 36000km above the earth surface while moderate ones move in the Medium earth orbits (MEO) at 10000km

But it's still good enough...

Nonetheless it is a good development. For one daily imaging to be provided by NigerSat-1would provide data which would have been other unavailable.

It would also strengthen existing relationship between member countries as they have to exchange satellite results and data for monitoring data, national security and commercial applications. On its own, none of the seven micro satellites to be launched by the countries involved are of is useful it when the data supplied by the others are added that they become useful.

SSTL built a satellite for Tsinghua University Beijing, China in 2000. To launch the satellite the organisers relied on Cosmos, a Russian company reputed to be one of the world's best producers of carrier rockets.

NigerSat-1 is to be launched by these two teams.

A lunch of a Launch...

If there is anything the federal government eagerly look forward to it is the launch.

As the date draws near it is as if government cannot wait to trumpet it as the major achievement of the Obasanjo administration

"Some of the functions of the satellite will be defence and security surveillance pipeline surveillance population surveying and soil mapping," Chukwuemeka Chikelu, the minister for information had said. While the satellite is to be launched in Russia mission control and ground station monitoring will be based in Abuja. The 15 Engineer and scientists drawn from Universities and research institutions who went to Russia are already back in Nigeria and they are manning the Abuja ground station

As soon as the satellite is launched the Abuja ground station would monitor and receive information in Abuja no matter where the satellite is.

My food...your plate...

Launching is expensive. Almost like the huge cost of building a satellite. In the last decade the worldwide satellite launch business hit the $100bn mark. And it is still growing as more telecommunications needs rely more and more on satellite television and bigger and better communications. In the years ahead experts have predicted that it would soon hit the tens of trillions of dollars mark, specifically by 2020. This is the reason why many countries are interested in commercial rocket launching. One reason why India recently launched its new GSLV rocket, which is capable of placing satellites in the GEO. Nigeria, which lacks the technologies of this nation, has had to make do with paying for their services. But the launch date of the satellite has had to be pushed forward thrice, an event which pessimists saw as a sign that the project was a hoax. And one, which the Science and Technology Minister had to come out to clarify.

"We are rescheduling not because we defaulted. It is a rescheduling that has affected other countries like UK and Turkey because those launching it had to reschedule I to fit into their own programme. And we have rescheduled for Sep 28," Isoun said.

He said the postponement became necessary because the Russians cancelled the initial date because they were launching a military satellite, " and they do not want other satellite to be launched during this period."

But for her lack of the requisite technology, Nigeria is ideally sited for a spaceport used for launching rockets. Nigeria's position is just north of the equator, a plus which would have allowed a rocket harness maximum benefit from the Earth's rotation. This would in turn help catapult the payload into space, when it makes the leap into orbit. More than that a launch in Nigeria would have meant less fuel would be needed and made her an ideal spot for launching heavy satellites. It would also have made the launching far cheaper.

So what next...

After the launch, the agency has declared that it would start working toward the National Satellite II. A Spokesman for NARD has said the that the second satellite to be launched by Nigeria, which he said would be a, " communication satellite would be used solely to meet Nigeria's information technology needs."

The government also plan that it will meet the needs of neighbouring African countries that would be asked to pay for the service. On the humanitarian scene, Nigeria plans to give helpful images to Reuters AlterNet Foundation set up in 1997 to help work of relief professionals

Of all interest groups those to be favoured by the new arrangement are Nigerian Universities. This is because the bandwidth required by the heavy traffic demand of universities (since they download more images and materials than any other sector) is large.

When will it die?

Eventually, satellites die. Like all mechanical appliances, satellites also stop working after some few or many years depending on the reasons for such stoppages. The major factor is the orbit in which the satellite is. For Micro satellites, like NigerSat-1 which move in low earth orbit, the common cause of 'death' is that they get fried up in the Earth's atmosphere. Hopefully when it eventually does the Nigerian space project will not go down with it.


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