Determined to firm up its drive towards technological advancement, especially in relation to Information Communications Technology (ICT), the Federal Government dreams early realization of Nigeria’s desire to design, manufacture, launch and manage its own satellites locally. But how feasible and soon can this dream come into reality?
Two years ago, in its quest for further technological relevance and empowerment, when Nigeria launched two satellites known as Nigeria Sat X and an earth observation satellite called NigeriaSat2 in faraway Russia; it was an event that was widely described as a feat worthy of celebration.
However, that was not the fi rst time Nigeria would be going into the orbit as it had on September 27, 2003 and May 2007 in China launched satellites called NigeriaSat-1 and another communications satellite called Nigeria Communications Satellite NIGCOMSAT. These satellites were respectively designed, built, developed and manufactured by a Chinese company.
However, what made the 2011 launch unique was the fact that one of the two satellites, an experimental satellite called the Nigeria Sat X was wholly built by Nigerian engineers and scientists. While the Nigerian professionals who trained abroad were said to have successfully designed and built the experimental satellite called NigeriaSat-X, the satellite has a 2.5-metre high spatial resolution sensor as a strength point, a feat stakeholders described as a stepping stone to seeing Nigeria among technological advanced countries.
But going by the feelers from President Goodluck Jonathan, though Nigerian engineers, IT professionals and scientists have been able to record a feat of successfully designing and building an experimental satellite which is already in the orbit, the dream of having a wholly made-in- Nigeria satellite and having it launched into the space on Nigeria’s soil would soon become a reality. According to President Jonathan, aside from having a revolution in the country’s industrialisation that would lead to the launching of satellite made in Nigeria, it is his desire to also make sure that the nation achieve wholly production of locally-made aircraft, automobiles and speedboats.
To show his seriousness towards achieving this feat, the president last week inaugurated a body known as National Space Council charged with the responsibility of developing policy guidelines for activities in space and also plays the vital role of monitoring the implementation of the national space programme. The 13 member Council is headed by the president himself while Vice President Namadi Sambo acts as Vice Chairman. Other members of the council include Ministers of Science and Technology, Communication Technology, Education, Defense, Interior, National Planning, National Security Adviser, Director General of National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), as well as three university professors such as Professors Vincent Olunloyo, Elijah Mshelia, and Fransisca Okeke.
Jonathan challenged the council to work out ways to launch a Nigerian made space satellite on a Nigerian made space vehicle from a site within the country in the shortest possible time.
Specifically, admonishing himself and other members, the president had noted that “We must evolve clear cut initiatives that will not only fast track our industrialization process but one that will also see us within the shortest possible period to be able to build our own motor vehicles, our own boats and our own aircrafts and of course, launch our own satellite manufactured in Nigeria, from a launch site in Nigeria on a launch vehicle made in Nigeria.”
Speaking further, the president stated that “This is a challenge not only to the members of the council but to all Nigerians. We should dedicate ourselves to building a better technologically advanced stable and prosperous Nigeria for our children.”
Recalling that two years ago in 2011, the national space programme witnessed unprecedented development as according to him, it was a year in which some of the major objectives which informed the establishment of the national space and development agency were accomplished, according to him, “I refer in particular to the mandate to develop satellite technology for various applications, operationalising indigenous space systems for providing space services and the launch of satellites. “The year 2011 saw the launch of two X observation satellites, one of which Nigeria Sat X was designed and built by Nigerian engineers and scientists. This is a feat worthy of celebration.”
Noting that National Space Council was the apex body charged with the responsibility of developing policy guidelines for activities in space, the President pointed out that it also has the vital role of monitoring the implementation of the national space programme. He reiterated his administration’s unwavering commitment to the actualisation of the defi nitive goal of the nation’s space programme, telling the council members to evolve ways of enabling the country to maximally benefi t from its huge investments in the development of space technology.
Jonathan also stressed the need to properly structure and drive the national space programme given the critical place of space technology in the areas of national security, communications, industrialization and sustained socio-economic development. “This informs why our administration has constituted this council with high calibre of members, there are three professionals that are with us, they have reached the peak of their academic profession, they are professors in our universities,” he stated.
While assuring them of government’s support, the President thanked the members of the National Space Council for accepting to serve their fatherland, urging them to work hard to justify the confi dence which the nation has invested in them by bringing their attributes to bear in the discharge of this national assignment.
But there have been indications that the dream of having a made-in-Nigeria technological driven satellite might not come sooner than fifteen years time. Prof. Ita Ewa, the Minister of Science and Technology alluded to this when he submitted that by Nigeria made satellite would be ready for launch by 2028.
Giving hints on the country’s space programme from now to 2028 when it expects to launch a made-in-Nigeria satellite into space, the minister noted, “In 2015 we are preparing to launch NigeriaSAR-1 satellite. The NigeriaSAR is a security satellite with an acronym that stands for Synthetic Aperture Radar. This satellite will have a very high resolution that can cover kilometres, and for a backup of the communication satellite there will be NigeriaSat- 2 and NigeriaSat-3.”
“Also because of the experience we gained in Surrey, UK, we are going to build an Assembly Integration and Testing Centre for satellite technology, it is ongoing but this year we will put in more efforts to that technology. And before I leave offi ce in 2015 we will send Nigerian Astronaut into space ’’
According to him, by 2018 Nigeria would launch a manufactured satellite and in 2025 develop rocket and propulsion system. “In 2026 we have allies in electronics and software involved in space technology, and in 2028 we would now launch a Nigeria made satellite.” He submitted.
Former President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Alade Ajibola believes that Nigeria could successfully design and launch its own satellite by 2025. “In future, a lot is going to be done in Nigeria until one day when we will be able to design and launch our own satellite. We can build and launch our own locally made satellite. We need to take advantage of what is happening today. We are at the future by training our own engineers to begin to fi t into the programme. NigSatX is a unique situation, it a very good example of a Nigerian content because it was built by Nigeria engineers,” he said.
Also, Prof. Leo Daniel, a Nigerian professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, United States speaking on Satellite launch vehicle development and economic possibilities in Nigeria agreed with Ajibola, as he also submitted that Nigeria’s dream of having a locally-built satellite is achievable by 2025. “Nigeria can easily launch a satellite with a space launch vehicle because we are closer to the equator. So we can launch our vehicle very cheaply. It could be done, what we need to do is to integrate all our activities by 2025 and start to think we can be able to build a typical launch vehicle.”
As a matter of fact, while Nigeria’s quest for technological relevance and empowerment has continued to be a top priority of the Jonathan’s administration, 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.
While satellite technology is expected to help play key roles in e-commerce by improving government effi ciency and promoting the development of the digital economy in Nigeria and Africa, it is also 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.