After 23 years, Nigeria’s area ambitions nonetheless appear like a pipe dream

Water. Earth. Hearth. Air.

If you’re an Avatar: The Final Airbender head like me, you might be most likely anticipating to see the next tagline, “Way back, the 4 nations…” 

All in due time, my pal. However please, comply with carefully.

On Monday, August 29, 2005, the historic storm, Hurricane Katrina, hit cities lined up on the Louisiana-Mississippi border in New Orleans. For a lot of, that was the final time they noticed their properties and over 1,000 lives had been misplaced.

On Boxing Day in 2004, the world’s third-largest earthquake occurred, leading to one of many worst pure disasters — The Asian Tsunami. An estimated 227,898 folks died in 14 international locations on the shoreline, together with India, Indonesia, and Thailand.

So, why the Avatar reference and what does it imply right here? The unique concept was to record completely different pure disasters, however I felt that each one 4 parts play an important function in these conditions. Water: tsunamis and earthquakes; Earth: the world; Air: tornadoes and earthquakes; and Hearth: the aftermath.

However I digress.

A typical floor connecting each disasters is the most important focus of this text. However earlier than that, why point out the disasters within the first place? What’s the connection? 

In each conditions, the NigeriaSat-1, constructed by the UK’s Surrey Satellite tv for pc Expertise Restricted (SSTL) in 2003, was the primary satellite tv for pc to ship pictures of the US east coast after Hurricane Katrina. It additionally supplied helpful pictures for help employees following the Asian Tsunami. 

Earlier than being decommissioned in 2014 as a part of the Catastrophe Monitoring Constellation, NigeriaSat-1 was used to answer floods in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and West Africa. It has additionally been used for numerous mapping campaigns just like the Amazon and Vietnam’s coastal areas.

Nigeria does produce other satellites, and so they’ve been utilized in completely different conditions, however earlier than that, let’s do some backtracking.

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A historical past of Nigeria’s area programme

NASA’s area station in Kano — considered one of 18 Venture Mercury area stations strategically positioned alongside the Earth’s orbital monitor. The stations had been a part of an unlimited international communication community vital to trace spacecraft and relay data again to Mercury Management Middle at Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. Supply: Globalvoices

Nigeria’s area historical past is an extended and chequered one. Few folks know — or bear in mind — that the Nationwide Aeronautics and Area Administration (NASA) constructed the primary satellite tv for pc earth station in Nigeria, the NASA Monitoring Station 5, in 1961 in Kano to watch the Gemini and Apollo area missions.

Apparently, the station was closed in 1963 earlier than each missions had been concluded in 1966 and 1972, respectively.

In 1976, at an ECOWAS assembly held in Addis Ababa, Nigeria first declared its area ambition, and it took 23 years to arrange an area company. In Might 1999, the Nationwide Area Analysis and Improvement Company (NASRDA) was born following the advice of a nine-person committee of specialists constituted by the Nationwide Company for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI).

Aspect be aware: NASENI was established in 1992 by the Nigerian federal authorities on the suggestions of the White Paper Committee on the 1991 Report of a 150-member Nationwide Committee on Engineering Infrastructure comprising scientists, engineers, directors, federal and state civil servants, economists, attorneys, bankers, and industrialists.

NASRDA’s mandate is to “vigorously pursue the attainment of area capabilities as a necessary software for the socio-economic growth and the enhancement of the standard of lifetime of Nigerians.”

The company is below the purview of the Ministry of Science, Expertise, and Innovation. 

At present, Nigeria’s area programme is managed by NASRDA. And in 2000, the Nationwide Area Coverage (NSP) was authorised, and a 25-year roadmap for its implementation was endorsed in 2005. However we’ll get to these in a bit.

In 2006, the state-owned Nigerian Communications Satellite tv for pc (NIGCOMSAT) Restricted was fashioned to handle and function Nigeria’s communication satellites below the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economic system.

In its 15 years of existence, the corporate, a restricted legal responsibility enterprise that’s but to show a revenue, doesn’t have an establishing Act and has been the topic of controversy after just lately claiming it will purchase two new satellites in 2023 and 2025.

It additionally has a subsidiary, GeoApps Plus Restricted, which is predicted to deal with the sale of satellite tv for pc pictures acquired by Nigeria’s earth remark satellites. In keeping with its Fb web page, it gives coaching in Geographic Data System and Distant Sensing for Ministries, Departments, and Businesses (MDAs), and the navy, amongst others.

In 2017, after the Defence Area Administration Act was handed into legislation, and following the strategies of the NSP, the Defence Area Administration (DSA) was formally commissioned to amass extra space science applied sciences to assist the navy.

Previously referred to as the Defence Area Company, the DSA was first established on October 9, 2014, and is at the moment coaching a number of engineers in partnership with NIGCOMSAT and NASRDA.

However there’s nonetheless lots to unpack from the NSP and we’ll be having a look quickly.

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What Nigeria’s Nationwide Area Coverage seems like

As we discovered in 2018, as with most international locations, Nigeria’s area programme is shrouded in secrecy. 

By some stroke of luck and a devoted LinkedIn search, I discovered the profile of Dr Halilu Ahmad Shaba, NASRDA DG, who agreed to speak to me for this text.

Dr Halilu Ahmad, Director-Basic. NASRDA

I requested him what sort of insurance policies we would count on below his tenure, and whereas he didn’t inform me, he stated one factor for sure, the NSP will probably be reviewed. A job that may be carried out alongside the overhaul of the present roadmap, which President Muhammadu Buhari has sanctioned.

However whereas we await the evaluate, we are able to go to the present coverage.

The NSP is a ten-chapter doc outlining a number of aims like defence and legislation enforcement, catastrophe prediction, earth remark, poverty alleviation, promotion of worldwide cooperation, and the institution of analysis centres.

It additionally gives Nigeria’s area financial mannequin, a public-private partnership that includes brief, medium, and long-term plans. 

  • Brief-term, the federal government is chargeable for all investments in area expertise growth. 
  • Medium-term, the federal government implements the partial commercialisation of NASRDA’s services and products developed in the course of the short-term financial growth plan. 
  • Lengthy-term, the federal government companions with the personal sector to implement the public-private partnership framework for the area programme.

To attain this, the roadmap comprises benchmarks:

  • Launch of NigeriaSat-1 by 2002
  • Coaching of Nigerian engineers to construct earth remark (EO) satellites overseas by 2006
  • Launch of two new satellites by 2011
  • Coaching of Nigerian astronauts by 2015
  • Artificial Aperture Radar by 2015
  • Improvement and Constructing of Made in Nigeria Satellites by 2018
  • Improvement of Rocketry/Propulsion Techniques by 2025
  • Improvement of Spin-Off of Allied Industries – Electronics, Software program and many others. by 2028
  • Massive-Scale Commercialisation of Area Expertise & Know-how by 2030

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Down the rabbit gap of implementation

So far as implementation goes, Nigeria has had some success. We already talked about NigeriaSat-1. NASRDA has additionally facilitated the coaching of engineers in constructing EO satellites, with the NigeriaSat-X solely constructed by Nigerians, alongside the Nigeria-Sat-2 launched by the SSTL in 2011.

The NigeriaSat-1 and NigeriaSat-X have a lifespan of seven years and may have deorbited in 2018. However, 4 years later, each are nonetheless functioning by “grace”, as stated by Shaba, and as an skilled I spoke to informed me, Nigeria is getting extra worth for cash.

In 2017, the EduSat-1, a collaboration between the Federal College of Expertise Akure (FUTA), Ondo State, Nigeria, and NASRDA, was constructed by Nigerians and launched from NASA’s Kennedy Area Middle, however was decommissioned in 2019.

As to astronauts, you’d most likely bear in mind the present Minister of Science, Expertise, and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, telling Nigerians in March 2016 that Nigeria would have an astronaut in area on or earlier than 2030. Earlier than then, a fraudulent e-mail a few Nigerian astronaut stranded in area had circulated, eliciting various reactions. Nevertheless, Shaba confirms that this milestone has not been achieved.

Nigeria’s dream to launch in area by 2030 doesn’t look any nearer to actuality. As of 2021, 44 satellites have been launched by 14 African international locations, however none have been carried out from an African launch website.

As of 2019, the Centre for Area Transport and Propulsion (CSTP), Epe, Lagos State, has accomplished three profitable experimental rocket launches. 

Centre for Area Transport and Propulsion (CSTP), Epe, Lagos State, accomplished three profitable experimental rocket launches in 2019. Supply: Area in Africa

However, because of the hushed nature of Nigeria’s area programme, we solely know a earlier milestone altitude of 10km earlier than 2019. Though Shaba says it has elevated since then.

“As a result of it can be used for utility functions, we made a case that we’re not going to announce that. So we closed it to the general public and solely made some skeletal speeches about that.”

Communication satellites

One very important side of area expertise is communication satellites. Though they could not present as quick Web speeds as subsea cables or be as dependable, in a rustic like Nigeria the place broadband penetration is as little as 41%, any little factor helps. 

At present, nevertheless, satellites solely contribute 0.2% to Nigeria’s Web connectivity.

After the NigeriaSat-1’s profitable launch, in 2004, the federal government contracted state-owned China Nice Wall Trade Company Restricted (CGWIC) to construct the NigComSat-1, a communication satellite tv for pc. 

The NigComSat-1 was launched in 2007, however on account of an anomaly in its photo voltaic array, which meant it didn’t have sufficient energy, it was shut down in 2008. Fortunately, the Nigerian authorities had a failsafe insurance coverage coverage that enabled them to contract CGWIC once more to construct the NigComSat-1R.

The NigComat-1R was launched in 2011 and has a 15-year life span, and, identical to its predecessor, was managed by NIGCOMSAT. It had the precise specs because the NigComSat-1, seeing that it was a alternative. 

In 2018, Reuters reported that Nigeria had agreed to a $550 million cope with the CGWIC as soon as once more for 2 communication satellites which had been to be prepared by 2020 and 2021. However there’s no correct data as as to whether the deal pushed by or not. Particularly after the world’s focus moved to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shaba, nevertheless, calls this transfer and the present one by NIGCOMSAT to contract new satellites as counterproductive to what has already been carried out by NASRDA in coaching engineers and constructing satellites.

“You can not have two satellite tv for pc manufacturing companies. And NIGCOMSAT is [a] communications restricted, and we stated it ought to limit itself to transpondence.”

Aspect be aware: Transpondence is the receiving, sending, or reciprocal actions of receiving and sending messages or data by transponders or considered one of numerous radio transmission gadgets.

Commercialisation of area tech

As Temidayo Onisosun, Founder, Area in Africa, an Africa-focused media, analytics, and consulting agency specializing in the area and satellite tv for pc trade, defined, the area ecosystem is split into upstream and downstream.

Like upstream firms within the oil and gasoline sector, area startups concentrate on exploration and drilling. Within the area ecosystem, this might imply rocket or satellite tv for pc launching or area missions.

An organization downstream could be extra targeted on distant sensing, communication, amongst others. At present, Nigeria’s area ecosystem is generally authorities run, particularly in upstream actions. 

To help its 2030 purpose of enormous scale commercialisation, in 2010, the NASRDA Act was handed, establishing the Nationwide Area Council (NSC) as regulator. The Act says the NSC can approve licences for area actions in Nigeria. It, nevertheless, makes no provision for personal partnership, thus limiting personal firms to a participatory function.

In keeping with Shaba, as a part of Nigeria’s medium-term targets, NASRDA’s merchandise are to be commercialised. 

“We attempt to name them and allow them to know. For instance, if knowledge is meant to value  30 million, we promote it at 25 million. You promote it and make your cash. And then you definately return the remaining cash to the company.”

This knowledge is data gotten from Nigeria’s obtainable satellites.

Shaba additionally talked about spin-offs from its Fast Win initiatives, which targeted on particular points like meals safety, human safety, catastrophe administration, local weather change, knowledge administration, and academic packages in area science.

This included analysis carried out on the impact of high-frequency radiation on Wistar rats. A research which was to assist the Company decide the previous on people. Though it’s not clear what this new analysis brings to the desk because it seems to be a well-researched discipline. However, after all, science is all the time a curiosity.

In 2020, there have been 23 Fast Win initiatives.

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Notable achievements by NASRDA

For many Nigerians, in a rustic closely hit by recession and dealing with continued insecurity, an area programme seems like vainness metrics, showboating, if you’ll. However area expertise is kind of essential. 

In keeping with Statista, in 2020, the worldwide area economic system made roughly $446.9 billion, rising from $428 billion within the earlier yr, with industrial area services and products accounting for nearly 50% of the full turnover.

However past the financial affect, there are spillovers into different sectors, like agriculture, drugs, transport, the setting, and communications.

Over the previous few years, NASRDA has labored with Nigerian and international navy companies to eradicate insurgency in West Africa.

In keeping with The Guardian, the Company used the NigeriaSat-X to provide a 10-metre digital elevation simulation map and vegetation density map of Sambisa Forest to assist the navy within the insurgency battle.

Mainly, utilizing knowledge obtained from the satellite tv for pc, NASRDA created a digital illustration of the forest.

In 2012, NASRDA aided the Malian authorities in the course of the civil warfare between Southern and Northern factions.

The media home additionally says, “the area company donated over 4000 satellite tv for pc pictures estimated to be price ₦3 billion ($8.3 million) to Nigerian universities and analysis establishments, utilizing NigeriaSat-1 alone. In all, NigeriaSat-1 straight contributed over ₦10.5 billion ($29 million) to Nigeria’s economic system inside its first 9 years in orbit.”

These actions had been additionally continued utilizing the newer satellites, the NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X. 

In 2015, NIGCOMSAT gained the contract to handle Belarus’ satellite tv for pc, the BelinterSat-1, a income supply which was estimated would usher in $400,000 yearly. 

Combining these with the Fast Win initiatives and several other different spin-offs, it will seem the Company has not utterly failed.

Nevertheless, though Shaba describes the Nigerian area ecosystem as “vibrant”, the nation nonetheless lags behind, an issue he attributes to funding.

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Going again to the fundamentals

Whereas I talked to Henry Ibitolu, a former Analysis Intern at NASRDA, he drew an attention-grabbing comparability with India. 

“India proper now has nearly joined the league of nations launching rockets. When the US authorities, by NASA, despatched rockets to Mars, they spent $2 billion. However when India leveraged its native manpower and expertise to land a rover on Mars, they spent $20 million. That’s about 10% or much less of what the US spent.” 

I might later examine the figures, and though not correct, the numbers do say lots. India spent $73 million and was profitable on its first attempt.

To be truthful, India’s area mission was carried out in 2013 whereas the US first profitable Mars touchdown occurred in 1975; a number of issues made it less expensive, even by earlier requirements.

India was cautious to work with solely native firms and engineers and made a number of changes to the expertise to make it extra environment friendly. A place made potential by an academic system that prioritises Science Expertise, Engineering, and Arithmetic (STEM) programs.

Solely two Nigerian Universities — Kwara State College, Malete, Kwara State, and just lately the Lagos State College, Lagos, supply programs in aerospace and Aeronautical engineering.

I additionally discovered just one college — FUTA — that teaches distant Sensing and GIS as a course separate from geomatics and surveying. A number of universities additionally supply Masters in Distant Sensing.

Ibitolu stated the federal government ought to put money into STEM training. 

“For instance, the federal government ought to companion with universities to provide you with revolutionary concepts. We now have native expertise that we are able to leverage on to utilize that.”

An opinion Oniosun shares.

Apparently, all seven NASRDA analysis centres are located in universities.

However past, training is funding. The area trade is capital intensive. I imply, we simply talked about India spending $74 million for its Mars touchdown. 

In 2021, NASRDA and its parastatals obtained ₦22.8 billion ($55.6 million) — 14.4% — from the full finances allocation for the Ministry of Science and Expertise.

The entire budgetary allocation for Nigeria’s area programme was ₦35.7 billion ($86.8 million), with NASRDA accounting for 64%, NIGCOMSAT, 22%, and DSA, 14%.

To place all of this into perspective, given the world’s present fascination with Mars and utilizing NASA’s present Mars mission named Perseverance, which is predicted to value $2.7 billion, Nigeria’s whole area finances is barely 2% of the full value.

A extra apparent selection is perhaps a satellite tv for pc, which prices something from $400,000 to $1 million to construct.

It nonetheless leaves us with one conclusion, Nigeria’s area programme is grossly underfunded.

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What’s the resolution?

Whereas there is no such thing as a clear-cut resolution, Nigeria’s greatest guess lies in its area financial mannequin, the long-term plan to be exact. A public-private partnership the place the federal government works with privately-owned firms. 

However Ibitolu advises NASRDA to attain its dream of sending an astronaut into area earlier than taking over a extra regulatory function.

“Earlier than you progress to being a regulatory company, you could have led by instance. Earlier than you inform folks to do one thing, you could have carried out it your self. However in case you’ve not carried out something and you might be telling folks to do it, it’s not potential. Since you don’t know.” 

A place paying homage to present startup woes in Nigeria.

Utilizing the NASA-Area-X analogy, Oniosun believes NASRDA ought to work with universities and personal firms empowering native startups. 

“In some unspecified time in the future, the US authorities, NASA needed to belief SpaceX, to innovate and do superior stuff. Possibly Nigeria has to do this.

“The Area company has educated a whole lot of individuals to Masters and PHD stage, nevertheless it doesn’t imply something. It has not carried out something earlier than, and possibly they need to cease losing their cash.

“As a substitute of the Company making an attempt to do all of that by itself, it ought to belief these firms and start to outsource its expertise.”

However what does the personal sector appear like in Nigeria?

Thriving or declining?

Picture by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

In keeping with Ibitolu, the downstream sector is flourishing with a number of distant sensing and GIS firms within the area. However at the moment, there’s no personal firm within the upstream area. 

An issue that would additionally maybe be attributed to the capital intensive nature of the trade, as funding stays a problem. And Olayinka Fagbemiro, Assistant Chief Scientific Officer at NASRDA, believes banks might be the answer, most particularly the African Improvement Financial institution (AfDB), however there must be belief.

“By way of the personal sector, that is a facet that the federal government has to work on. Why? There must be an enabling setting. There must be a sure ease of doing enterprise in that side that may make people capable of commit the massive, huge sources that want to enter the personal sector and be a participant within the area programme.

“If banks, for instance, can present some form of loans for startups within the area sector, there are lots of sensible, younger Nigerians developing every day with experience, however the main problem is capital. And Africa is shedding out an entire lot in consequence as a result of Africa has lots to achieve from area merchandise.”

However it must be a long run funding or credit score plan. Nevertheless, Shaba decries Nigerian buyers’ eye for  fast revenue.

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A brand new age?

Photograph by Tumisu on Pixabay

In Might 2021, Shaba was appointed as the brand new Director-Basic of NASRDA, and I requested him what to anticipate from NASRDA below his reign. Shaba’s solutions: a number of restructuring, extra satellites, and functioning in step with the federal government.

Ibitolu expects some modifications. 

“We’re hopeful that we’ll see change with the brand new administration. After I did my IT with NASRDA, below the earlier administration, I noticed folks being employed who had studied Yoruba. However we’re hopeful we’ll see new developments at NASRDA.”

A place Fagbemiro agrees with.

Earlier than penning this, I hoped to find out whether or not the Area Company has failed in its duties. My conclusion is that, to a big extent, in comparison with different area programmes, whereas it can’t be considered a complete failure, it can’t be considered an out and out success both. 

However, it might be higher. What say ye?

Ogheneruemu Oneyibo

Author, Humanoid, Endlessly she/her, Lover of phrases.


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