Inside FG’s move to launch new multibillion naira satellite | Dailytrust

Inside FG’s move to launch new multibillion naira satellite

Nigeria will launch a new communication satellite (Sat 2) into the orbit this year, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali...

Satellite
Satellite

Nigeria will launch a new communication satellite (Sat 2) into the orbit this year, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, said last month. But many Nigerians shrugged off the news as the previous launched ones rarely benefitted them.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to procure and launch new communications satellite is seen by many Nigerians as a waste of scarce foreign exchange.  

Pantami disclosed at a one-day working visit and interaction with the staff of the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT) in Abuja last month that he had secured the approval of the president to purchase another communications satellite for the country.

The minister said the new satellite would boost the country’s satellite communications capacity, as well as the economy. He also disclosed that he had gone further to lobby the minister of finance to ensure that this was included in the 2022 budget.

“As a matter of fact, I have secured the approval of Mr President for purchasing another satellite. I went further to lobby the minister of finance to ensure that this was included in the 2022 budget,’’ the minister said.

The National Agency for Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), however, called the move by the minister to contract new satellite for NIGCOMSAT as counterproductive to what has already been done by the NASRDA in training engineers and building satellites.

“You cannot have two satellite manufacturing agencies. NIGCOMSAT is about communications, and we said it should restrict itself to transpondence,” it said.

Transpondence is the receiving, sending or reciprocal actions of receiving and sending messages or information through transponders or one of various radio transmission devices.

Satellite

 

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the federal government earmarked N2.5 billion for the satellite 2 project in the 2022 budget estimate. It had in 2017 announced plans to raise $550m required for the construction of two new communications satellites for Nigeria, which the Chinese Export and Import Bank accepted to provide. But the deal did not push through.

The federal government had previously launched a N34billion communication satellite, which was not put into good use, according to experts.

NigComSat 1 was launched into the orbit from China on May 13, 2007 but got de-orbited (failed) in November 2008 due to some technical fault. It was thereafter launched the second time by the CGWIC of China on December 19, 2011 with a design lifespan of 15 years.

But those who are in the know said the previously launched multi-billion naira Nigeria’s communications satellite is lying almost idle in space in spite of its enormous communication resources.  

Several sources in Nigeria’s space technology industry confided in our reporter that high cost of internet data, inability to complete the Digital Switch Over and the absence of real time tele-medicine in the country, amongst others, are due to the idleness of the NigComsat 1-R managed by NIGCOMSAT.

After the NigeriaSat-1’s successful launch in 2004, the government contracted state-owned China Great Wall Industry Corporation Limited (CGWIC) to build the NigComSat-1, a communication satellite. 

In 2006, the state-owned Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) Limited was carved out of the NASRDA to manage and operate Nigeria’s communication satellites under the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy.

NigComSat-1 was launched in 2007, but due to an anomaly in its solar array, which meant it did not have enough power, it was shut down in 2008. The Nigerian government had a failsafe insurance policy that enabled them to contract CGWIC again to build the NigComSat-1R.

NigComat-1R was launched in 2011 and has a 15-year lifespan, and just like its predecessor, was managed by the NIGCOMSAT. It had the exact specifications as the NigComSat-1, because it was a replacement. 

 In its 16 years of existence, the company, a limited liability enterprise that is yet to turn a profit since it was formed, does not have an establishing act and has been the subject of controversy after Pantami announced it would acquire a new satellite. But in 2015, NIGCOMSAT won the contract to manage Belarus’ satellite, the BelinterSat-1, a revenue source which was estimated would bring in $400,000 annually. 

The management of NIGCOMSAT did not reply to Daily Trust on Sunday’s enquiries on whether the government really gained from this deal or not.

Space technology is capital-intensive – Expert

However, some argue that Nigeria’s space programme is grossly underfunded

Henry Ibitolu, a former research intern at the NASRDA, said space technology was capital-intensive but Nigeria should spend more on it to achieve meaningful results.  

“India right now has almost joined the league of countries launching rockets. When the US government, through NASA, sent rockets to mars, they spent $2 billion. But when India leveraged its local manpower and technology to land a rover on mars, they spent $20 million. That’s about 10 per cent or less of what the US spent.” 

The total budgetary allocation for Nigeria’s space programme was N35.7 billion ($86.8 million), with NASRDA accounting for 64 per cent, NIGCOMSAT, 22 per cent, and Defence Satellite Agency (DSA), 14 per cent.

A satellite costs anything from $400,000 to $1 million to build, according Adio Sheriff, a satellite communications expert. .

Communication satellites

One vital aspect of space technology is communication satellites. Although they may not provide as fast internet speeds as subsea cables or be as reliable, in a country like Nigeria where broadband penetration is as low as 41 per cent, they still provide little help. Currently, however, satellites only contribute 0.2 per cent to Nigeria’s internet connectivity.

Commercialisation of space tech

Temidayo Onisosun, the founder of Space in Africa, an Africa-focused media, an analytics and consulting firm focusing on the space and satellite industry, explained that the space ecosystem is divided into upstream and downstream.

Like upstream companies in the oil and gas sector, space start-ups specialise in exploration and drilling. In the space ecosystem, this could mean rocket or satellite launch or space missions.

A company downstream would be more focused on remote sensing, communication, among others. Currently, Nigeria’s space ecosystem is mostly government-run, especially in upstream activities. 

To aid its 2030 goal of large scale commercialisation, in 2010, the NASRDA act was passed, establishing the National Space Council (NSC) as a regulator. The act states that the NSC can approve licences for space activities in Nigeria. It, however, makes no provision for private partnership, thus limiting private companies to a participatory role.

According to Statista, in 2020, the global space economy made approximately $446.9 billion, increasing from $428 billion in the previous year, with commercial space products and services accounting for almost 50 per cent of the total turnover.

But beyond the economic impact, there are spillovers into other sectors, like agriculture, medicine, transport, the environment and communications.

Effective legislation can transform the sector – Agbakoba     

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, has emphasized the need for operative legislation for an unrelenting implementation of the Nigerian Space Programme.

Agbakoba made the statement when he paid a courtesy call on the director-general of the NASRDA, Dr Halilu Ahmad Shaba at the agency‘s headquarters in Abuja.

The legal luminary, who was of the opinion that space related activities in the 21st century are platforms for societal development, said the future of mankind is space, hence the need for laws that will not only strengthen the agency, but give it the necessary legal backing to actualise its constitutional mandate, as well to operate in line with current trends in the global space industry.

He called for a re-jig of NASRDA’s space policy to include licensing of space objects as more people are beginning to show interest in space with some emerging and strategic developments in the critical sector.

He said there was no better time than now to reaffirm the clear roles and mandate of the agency for the avoidance of conflict between it and other players in the space industry.

Dr Agbakoba maintained that the NASRDA, which is the only agency saddled with the responsibility to build and launch satellites, must have the legal and necessary support to actualise Nigeria’s space agenda for the overall benefit of the people.

He said the space industry was a potential source of revenue generation for the country, especially in the area of technology and tourism, which he described as veritable platforms that would produce the next set of billionaires in the country sooner than expected.

The legal icon appreciated the efforts of the NASRDA in synergising with both private and public organizations, as well as relevant stakeholders in mapping out strategies and ensuring proper implementation for the successful implementation of the Nigerian Space Programme.

In his remark, Shaba thanked Dr Agbakoba for the interest shown in the space programme, especially the various submissions as they relate to the Nigerian Space Programme.

According to him, the Nigerian space policy, which is currently being implemented by the NASRDA, requires necessary review to allow for effective participation in the commercialisation of space programmes and activities for improved revenue generation.

The NASRDA boss, who emphasised the strategic role the agency plays in the socio-economic development of the country, explained that the NASRDA, by its mandate, was designed to build and launch satellites, as well as regulate all space-related activities in the country.

He said the agency would continue to build bridges in the spirit   of result-oriented collaborations with relevant stakeholders and organisations who share incisive vision and playing significant or complimentary roles in the realisation of its goals and objectives.

Shaba promised to extend the agency’s hands of fellowship, especially in the implementation of key objects through collaborations, with a view to achieving the critical mandate of the agency for the progress and development of the country.

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