Inside FG’s decision to launch a new multi-billion naira satellite

NOTNigeria will launch a new communications satellite (Sat 2) into 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 previous launches rarely benefited them.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s endorsement to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy for the purchase and launch of a new communications satellite is seen by many Nigerians as a waste of scarce currency.

Pantami revealed during a one-day working visit and interaction with staff of Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT) in Abuja last month that he had obtained the President’s approval to purchase another satellite communications for the country.

The minister said the new satellite would boost the country’s satellite communication capacity, as well as the economy. He also revealed he had gone further to lobby the finance minister to include this in the 2022 budget.

“I actually got Mr. President’s approval for the purchase of another satellite. I went further to lobby the finance minister to include this in the 2022 budget,” said the minister.

The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), however, called the minister’s decision to contract a new satellite for NIGCOMSAT counterproductive to what has already been done by the NASRDA to train engineers and build satellites.

“You can’t have two satellite manufacturing agencies. NIGCOMSAT is about communications, and we said it should be limited to transpondance,” he said.

Transpondence is the receiving, sending, or interplay of receiving and sending messages or information via transponders or one of various radio transmitting devices.

Satellite

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the federal government has earmarked 2.5 billion naira for the Satellite 2 project in the 2022 budget estimate. In 2017 it announced plans to raise $550 million needed to build two new communications satellites for Nigeria , which the China Export and Import Bank has agreed to provide. But the deal did not go through.

The federal government had previously launched a N34 billion communications satellite, which was not put to good use, experts say.

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

But those in the know said the previously launched multi-billion naira Nigerian communications satellite is almost idle in space despite its huge communications resources.

Several sources in the space technology industry in Nigeria told our reporter that the high cost of internet data, the inability to complete the digital switchover and the absence of real-time telemedicine in the country, among others, are due to the inactivity of the NigComsat 1 -R managed by NIGCOMSAT.

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

In 2006, the state-owned Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) Limited was spun off from NASRDA to manage and operate Nigerian communications satellites under the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.

NigComSat-1 was launched in 2007, but due to an anomaly in its solar panel, which meant it did not have enough power, it was shut down in 2008. The Nigerian government had a police force fail-safe insurance that allowed them to re-contract CGWIC to build the NigComSat-1R.

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

In its 16-year existence, the company, a limited liability company that has yet to make a profit since its inception, has no articles of incorporation and has been the subject of controversy after Pantami announced the acquisition of a new satellite. But in 2015, NIGCOMSAT won the contract to manage the Belarusian satellite, BelinterSat-1, a revenue stream estimated to bring in $400,000 a year.

NIGCOMSAT management did not respond to the Daily Trust during Sunday’s questioning on whether the government has really benefited from the deal or not.

Space technology is capital intensive – Expert

However, some claim that the Nigerian space program is grossly underfunded

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

“India almost joined the league of rocket launching countries. When the US government through NASA sent rockets to Mars, it spent $2 billion. But when India leveraged its local manpower and technology to land a rover on Mars, it spent $20 million. That’s about 10% or less of what the United States spent.”

The total budget allocation for Nigeria’s space program was 35.7 billion naira ($86.8 million), with NASRDA accounting for 64%, NIGCOMSAT 22% and the Defense Satellite Agency (DSA) 14%.

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

communications satellites

Communication satellites are a vital aspect of space technology. Although they may not provide internet speeds as fast as undersea cables or they may not be as reliable, in a country like Nigeria where broadband penetration is as low as 41%, they do always provide little help. Currently, however, satellites only contribute 0.2% of Nigeria’s internet connectivity.

Commercialization of space technology

Temidayo Onisosun, the founder of Space in Africa, an Africa-focused media, analytics and consulting firm specializing in 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 specialize in exploration and drilling. In the space ecosystem, this could mean a rocket or satellite launch or space missions.

A downstream business would be more focused on remote sensing, communication, among others. Currently, the Nigerian space ecosystem is mainly managed by the government, especially in upstream activities.

To aid its 2030 goal of large-scale commercialization, in 2010 the NASRDA Act was passed, establishing the National Space Council (NSC) as the regulator. The law states that the NSC can approve licenses for space activities in Nigeria. However, it does not provide for private partnership, thus limiting private companies to a participatory role.

According to Statista, in 2020, the global space economy brought in around $446.9 billion, up from $428 billion the previous year, with commercial space products and services accounting for nearly 50% of total revenue.

But beyond the economic impact, there are spin-offs in other sectors, such as agriculture, medicine, transport, 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 highlighted the need for operational legislation for relentless implementation of the Nigerian space program.

Agbakoba made the statement when he paid a courtesy call on NASRDA Director General Dr. Halilu Ahmad Shaba at the agency’s headquarters in Abuja.

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

He called for an overhaul of the NASRDA space policy to include the licensing of space objects as more and more people begin to take an interest in space with certain emerging and strategic developments in the sector. critical.

He said there was no better time than now to reaffirm the agency’s clear roles and mandate to avoid any conflict between it and other players in the space industry.

Dr. Agbakoba argued that NASRDA, which is the sole agency responsible for building and launching satellites, must have the legal and necessary backing to actualize 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 technology and tourism, which he described as real platforms that would produce the next group of billionaires. in the country sooner than expected.

The legal icon appreciated the efforts of NASRDA in synergy with private and public organizations, as well as relevant stakeholders to strategize and ensure proper implementation for the successful implementation of the Nigerian space program.

In his remark, Shaba thanked Dr. Agbakoba for his interest in the space program, especially the various submissions related to the Nigerian space program.

According to him, the Nigerian space policy, which is currently being implemented by NASRDA, needs a necessary review to enable effective participation in the commercialization of space programs and activities for better revenue generation.

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

He said the agency would continue to build bridges in the spirit results-oriented collaborations with relevant stakeholders and organizations that share an incisive vision and play significant or complementary roles in achieving its goals and objectives.

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

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