Nigeria In Outer Space: More Controversies

After Nigeria had spent $13million (N 1.95 billion) on its first outer space satellite (NigeriaSat-1) launched on September 26, 2003, the last thing many Nigerians wanted to hear in 2006 was that the Federal Government was going to spent another £40.12million (N10billion) on two more satellites.

With the rising cost of living and the dilapidated state of our infrastructure and health care centres, the run-down state of our educational institution and declining educational standard even stark illiteracy especially in the rural areas and suburbs; N10billion on a satellite was considered as yet another waste and many Nigerians did not hide their fury.

Nigerians really had not felt the impact of the first satellite on their daily lives before it got lost in space. Nigerians still relied on cable news television stations for the most basic weather forecast. In August 17, 2011 when the satellites (NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X) were launched, the applause was dim.

At the end of the first quarter of 2012, media reports displayed headlines that ignited an outcry; the project is reportedly incomplete.

The contractors had omitted building a laboratory for the processing of the images downloaded from the satellites. As a result, the images had to be taken to Britain for production; and spend more money.

The Federal Government is reported to have factored the building of a laboratory into the contract, but so far there was no information as to whether the FG has called the British company, Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited, who undertook the project to explain. Speculations are bound on the actual disbursement of the N10billion earmarked for the project.

What is even more controversial is the report that the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) is now requesting for more money this year, 2012, to build a laboratory.

The contract for the construction of NigeriaSat-2 was awarded in 2006 to Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited and the price tag was £34m.  In addition to this, 18% of the cost was spent on the insurance of the spacecrafts; thus making a total of £40.12m.

The contract also included the training of 26 Nigerian engineers in the construction of satellites. The experience these Nigerians acquired was reportedly put to use in construction of the experimental satellite – the NigeriaSat-X.

NigeriaSat-2 is a high resolution satellite with 2.5-metre GSD in the panchromatic channel and it is an improvement on NigeriaSat-1, which had a resolution of 32m.

The areas of application of the two satellites are said to include agriculture, forestry, land use and mapping, environmental and disaster monitoring, mitigation and management, geological mapping and transportation. There is also hydrology and water resources, population and urban development, National Geospatial Data Infrastructure, as well as military, security and tourism applications.

Reports also say that the Federal Government planned to use these satellites to monitor the activities of terrorist within the country. The then National Security Adviser, General Owoye Andrew Azazi (retired), had also directed NASRDA to produce an aerial maps of Maiduguri and other volatile cities in the North to help security agencies identify possible operational bases from which terrorist groups plot and launch their attacks.

On Friday March 23, 2012 the NASRDA held a press conference where the images downloaded from the satellites were displayed. Most of them were images of Maiduguri, but none of those images were produced in Nigeria.

Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited now has control over the satellites the FG paid billions for as it has to produce the downloaded images before they can be used.

Director-General, NASRDA, Dr. Seidu Mohammed said the images could still be put to security use and NASRDA could now work in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission for constituency delineation as well as with the National Population Commission for census purposes.

However, in response to why a laboratory was not built in the Abuja base station, he reportedly said that it was necessary to listen to the professionals rather than people who are intent on “politicising space technologies in the country.” According to these reports Mohammed credits 145 images to the satellites.

However, there are concerns on what the additional cost of producing the images abroad will be and also the waiting period for produced such images. Furthermore, with the current weather changes and the approach of the rainy season in the country, many wonder how quickly NASRDA would be able to act to prevent any form of disaster.

The President of the Senate, David Mark, was said to have asked NASRDA to produce images of Otukpo; his constituency in Benue State. Days after his request Senator Mark was kept waiting for the images. Responding to questions from journalists concerning Sen. Mark’s request, Dr. Mohammed said, “There is nothing happening in Otukpo that we are not aware of.”

On the flip side, NASRDA used the March conference to present 87 Galileoscope telescopes to 87 universities and secondary schools across the country to help them in the study of space sciences.
As it is, neither NASRDA nor the FG has proffered answers to the mystery of the missing laboratory but perhaps another multi-million naira contract would be given out to build it.