Going by the resolutions at the 9th Annual Space Conference and Exhibition held in Abuja recently, Nigeria may be edging towards launching its home-grown satellites by exploring the near equatorial orbit.
Satellite, according to Wikipedia, is a specialised wireless receiver/transmitter that is launched by a rocket and placed in orbit for diverse purposes as weather forecasting, television broadcast, amateur radio communication, internet communications, and the Global Positioning System (GPS).
No doubt, the use of satellite has become the most effective method of monitoring and managing disasters across the globe.
Recently, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S.A. through imagery from satellite, helped firefighters addressed an issue of wildfire in India, by directing them to the most intense area of the fire outbreak.
In Nigeria, experts have underscored the need to use space science technology to address security challenges ranging from Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, farmers-herdmen clashes, communal and religious crises.
They stressed that common problems like desertification, flooding, erosion and food insecurity could also be addressed using the technology.
Specifically, the experts argued that space based technology, such as earth observation satellite, communication satellite, meteorological satellite and global navigation satellite system will play great roles in early warning disaster and crime monitoring assessment and management.
Flowing from this, Nigeria has, so far, launched five satellites into outer space comprising two communication satellites and the three others for environmental warning signals and disaster monitoring constellations.
NigeriaSat-1 was the first satellite, built by a UK-based satellite technology company, Surrey Space Technology Limited (SSTL) under the Nigerian government sponsorship for 30 million dollar.
The satellite was launched from Russian Plesetsk spaceport in Sept. 2003 and was designed to give early warning signals of environmental disaster, detect and control desertification in the Northern part of the country, assist demographic planning, among other objectives.
However, having lasted over 15 years, the expected life span of an earth observation satellite, NigeriaSat-1 has expired in the orbit, hence cannot supply data to the country.
NigComSat-1, the second satellite ordered by Nigeria was built in China in 2004 and designed to be the first African communication satellite.
Launched on May 13, 2007, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in China, the spacecraft was operated by Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited and the National Space Research and Development Agency.
The satellite, however, failed in the orbit on Nov. 11, 2008 after running out of power due to an anomaly in its solar array.
Then, NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, the third and fourth satellites which were built as a high-resolution earth satellite by SSTL for Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC).
The NigeriaSat-2 and X spacecraft was built at a cost of over 35 million dollar and launched into orbit by Ukrainian Dnepr rocket from a Yasny military base in Russia on Aug. 11, 2011.
The fifth satellite, NigComSat-1R was launched on Dec. 19, 2011 by China to replace NigComSat-1 and at no cost to Nigeria.
Nearly eight years after NigComSat-1R, the country has not been able to launch additional satellite to meet the needs of telecommunication, maritime, defense, security and broadcast media.
In April 2018, the Nigeria Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT) announced that it was collaborating with China Great Wall Industry Cooperation (CGWIC) to launch two satellites.
Till date, that dream is yet to be realised largely due to huge capital that is involved, the cumbersome nature of collaborative agreement and the challenges involved in traveling out of region for the launching.
It was, therefore, a huge reprieve, when scientists and space experts at the 9th Annual Space Conference and Exhibition in Abuja, resolved that Nigeria can explore the benefits of space, located along the equatorial region to launch its home grown satellites.
The conference was part of a week-long-program organised by the Centre for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD) an activity centre of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).
At the conference which focused on “Exploration of Equatorial Orbit for Space Optimisation”, the scientists believed that Nigeria and other African countries should explore the benefits of space being located along the equatorial region.
They reiterated that African countries launching satellites from their tropical region can save cost because the altitude of the satellite to space is short with other benefits accrued to it.
Prof. Babatunde Rabiu, Director Centre for Atmospheric Research (CAR) described the equatorial region as one with the highest level of peak electron density and possessing the most pronounced amplitude.
He, therefore, recommended that Nigeria as a nation within the equatorial belt has a natural access to equatorial orbit and should harness that benefit as a major way toward attaining the domestication of satellite technology.
Rabiu recalled that Malaysia launched her first remote sensing satellite, known as RazakSAT into a Near Equatorial Orbit (NEqO) in 2009.
He said Malaysia had since been recognised as having higher revisit of satellites, as compared to other orbits, thus increasing the potential use for various monitoring and surveillance applications.
Rabiu said that equatorial and NEqO satellite using selective off-nadir optical viewing (looking straight down at a target object) and assisted with cloud sensor, provides optimised data acquisition of satellite imagery to better serve purpose.
“NEqO gives the best coverage opportunities when planned for specific applications in the equatorial area, have huge scientific opportunities and increases business purposes,’’ he said.
He disclosed that there was an international call for collaboration towards exploration of NEqO, and Nigeria should be a front-liner in the quest.
The expert, therefore, recommended the urgent need to review the nation’s present budgetary systems and procurement laws to favour space science and technology.
“Space programme is capital intensive, private public participation should be encouraged,’’ Rabiu said.
He also suggested that the recently established engineering activity centres of NASRDA should be reviewed and their mandates redefined to address current indigenous space needs.
The centers, according to him, included the Centre for Satellite Technology Development, Centre for Space Transport and Propulsion (CSTP) and the Department of Engineering and Space Systems
Speaking in the same vein, Prof. Spencer Onuh, Director CSTD said Nigeria have had capital flights. from all its satellites which were launched outside its shores in collaboration with foreign based satellite technology companies.
He underscored the need for the country to invest in its home grown capabilities, human capacity and develop its space industry.
The scientist decried the delay in the establishment of NASRDA’s Assembly, Integration and Testing Centre (AITC), meant to foster the designing, manufacturing and launching of satellites from Nigerian soil.
He said the delay in the establishment of the assembly centre has been the bane to harnessing the benefits of space science technology.
Onuh recommended the encouragement of Private-Public-Partnership to develop space science technology because of the huge capital involvement.
“Private-public-partnership can be encouraged because satellite business is not just about government and government’s involvement is not sustainable,” he said.
Dr Matthew Adepoju, President, Geo-information Society of Nigeria (GSN) said African countries lagged behind in the first, second and third industrial revolution of development.
Adepoju noted that the continent must not continue to take the back stage in the fourth industrial revolution being driven by polar orbit technology.
“Most advanced countries have taken advantage of the polar orbit, we are located in the equatorial orbit which we need to explore and regain our leadership position in the continent,” he said.
The experts at the event believed that with diligent implementation of the National Space Roadmap of 2005 backed with adequate funding, Nigeria will successfully exploit the equatorial orbit to launch its home grown satellites for socio-economic development of the country.