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Nigeria set to expand its activities in space

Jonathan Amos | 11:24 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011

I remember distinctly when Nigeria adopted its national space policy in 2001 someone turning to me in the BBC newsroom and saying, "what on Earth does Nigeria need a space programme for?"


NigeriaSat-2 will give the African country a powerful capability to map its resources and those of its neighbours

It's a question you often hear directed at India as well as it pursues its ambitions in orbit.

There's an assumption among many, I guess, that space activity is somehow a plaything best left to wealthy industrial countries; that it can have no value to developing nations.

The money would be better spent on things like healthcare and education, so the argument goes.

But what this position often overlooks is that investment in science and technology builds capability and capacity, and develops the sort of people who benefit the economy and society more widely.

It is investment that helps to pull the country up (and industrialised nations know it; that's one of the reasons they invest so heavily in space activity, also).

This is certainly the line taken by Dr Seidu Mohammed. He is the director-general of Nigeria's space agency - the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), which has an annual budget in the region of $50m.

He told me that space brings great benefits to his country:

"Our own space programme is not an ego trip; it is not meant for lunar missions. It is meant to solve problems at home; problems of agriculture; problems of water resources development; problems of environment, and so on and so forth."

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Nigeria will launch two satellites in the coming months on a Russian/Ukrainian Dnepr vehicle from the Dombarovsky cosmodrome.

One is NigeriaSat-2, a follow-on to the Earth imager NigeriaSat-1 launched in 2003, and the other is NigeriaSat-X.


Nigerian engineers have built a satellite with the help of British engineers

The first is a top-notch small satellite produced by engineers at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in Guildford, UK, for Nigeria. An extremely powerful platform, NigeriaSat-2 will be able to resolve details down to about 2.5m across.

When it gets into orbit, it will actually give Nigeria an imaging spacecraft more capable than any such asset owned by the British government (the UK calls up "Uncle Sam" when it needs very high-resolution images).

NigeriaSat-X is not quite in the same class (22m resolution) but what's most interesting about this spacecraft is that it has been built by Nigerian engineers under the direction of their SSTL counterparts.

They will be able to go home and make future spacecraft themselves.

It's a model followed by Turkey. They received their education at SSTL as well, and when the Dnepr flies it will also carry RASAT to orbit.

This is the first remote sensing satellite (7.5m resolution) to have been developed and manufactured in Turkey by Turkish engineers.

Dr Seidu Mohammed:

"NigeriaSat-2, in our opinion, when launched, will create a data revolution, not only in Nigeria but in the whole of Africa. In 2009, Nigeria, along with Algeria, South Africa and Kenya, signed a major memorandum that enables Africa to work with itself - which is the Africa Resource Management Constellation. NigeriaSat-2 will be the first satellite in that fleet. It will create a number of data that enables Africa to achieve the so-called Millennium Development Goals and other African initiatives.
"So, to a large extent we are looking to that with excitement. Being a higher resolution image, it will provide the ability to do cadastral mapping (to describe the land and its ownership) in Nigeria. This in our opinion will improve the revenue base of most states by more than 1,000%, and this will go a long way in supporting governance, because we believe governance is about providing welfare in education, health and some other areas."

Nigeria has something like 40 people around the world right now doing PhDs in some aspect of space engineering. There are many completing MSc studies, too. It's all knowledge that they will take home.

Nigeria has grander plans, of course. A key goal in the coming years is to develop a radar satellite. The climate experienced in the southern part of the country means it gets a lot of cloud cover, and the only way you can see through cloud is with radar.

Dr Mohammed says radar would help Nigeria to patrol better its mineral and fisheries wealth.

At the moment, there is a lot of oil theft in Nigeria - a practice known as "bunkering". And there are many foreign vessels that come into Nigerian waters to fish illegally. It all amounts to billions in losses to the national economy.

Keep an eye out for the Dnepr launch in the months ahead. The two Nigerian satellites will both go into the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC), the UK-managed network of remote sensing spacecraft that provide rapid imaging in times of crisis.

Gulf of Mexico

NigeriaSat-1 was one of the first satellites tasked with imaging the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X will also engage in disaster zone mapping



  • Comment number 1.

    A Space programme has its place and time in every economy. I dare say I disagree with a budget of $50m/annum on sattelites. Most of this budget would in-effect end up in foreign companies. Nigeria has more pressing issues than having sattelites in space. I would really like to say Nigeria is advancing o space age, but with National Electric power production below that of some major cities in the world, with income per capita very low by international standards and high unemployement this would seem a mispalced ambition. The budget for this space programme could be better spent generating more local income and improving lives of the average Nigerian. Our nation is far from space ready, we need to stand before we walk and to walk before we run. With a GDP that puts Nigeria on position 32 of world ranking, there needs to be more tangible development in the Nation. Think Infrastructure, basic amenities and feed the people.

  • Comment number 2.

    It just shows how compassion-free the governments of India and Nigeria are that they can fritter money away on such pointlessness when their people lack basic amenities. There is no city in India that can provide 24 hour running water and power yet they spend an amount equivalent to our aid on their space programme AND their own aid programme. As for Nigeria it just shows a complete lack of common sense.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think this article sheds alot of light on the Nigerian government activity in space technology. When the first programme was rolled out a few years ago- I myself was in the choir of people complaining of waste and lack of priorities! However this technology as pointed out in the article will help Nigeria improve in its agricultural sector, track environmental and climatic problems and help with oil bunkering- problems Nigeria faces that cost billions of dollars every year. $50million in my opinion is a welcome investment if the satelitte is properly maintained and utilized effectively.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think Squiz of Islington needs to get facts right. Do you have evidence to back your claim, that no Indian city can provide 24 hour running water and power supply.

    I think it is necessary to look back at our own history of Industrial revolution,condition of utility infrastructure, social conditions at that time before making ill-informed comments.

    Every country needs to develop its capacity to provide the facilities that we take for granted in the east.

    India,Nigeria,Brazil,Russia,China are not island nations catering to needs of 65 million people, in some cases they cater to populations many orders of magnitude bigger than ours.

    Will you be ready to provide free access to technology, to these countries, probably not.

    Do we really care whether people in these countries manage a decent meal a day, when we don't really care about the economically weak in our own midst.
    It is in our national interest that we provide aid or invest in another country. Many countries like India and China receive aid, and also have programmes to provide aid.
    Like wise the tea we drink, the Jaguars we would love to own, are owned by Indian companies. I think you should start objecting to inward investment, given that billions invested by India,Chinese companies here could be better used to serve the starving millions back in those countries. But you possibly will not if your livelihood depended on the investment to keep these companies alive in UK.

    So please stop preaching what others countries should or should not be doing. Use your common sense its none of our business.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is not correct for some people to insist that every mouth must be fed, every single road re-built and electric power supply run steadily without interruption before we can invest in space technology. All developmental challenges facing us can be tackled simultaneously since we have the capacity and wherewithal to do so. Apart from the Niger-Sat weather satellites, Nigeria is also investing in telecommunications satellite technology which has the potential to save the country 100 million dollars per year currently spent on routing our telecommunications and internet traffic through foreign satellites. (Africa as a continent currently spends 660 million dollars annually doing exactly the same). Moreover, space satellite technology has the potential to be a money-spinning venture since satellite services sold to other nations and big business corporations.

  • Comment number 6.

    I love my country Nigeria for engaging spectacular projects, we know as "White Elephants". While this venture as laudable as it is and having scientific clout to assist the country plan ahead and resolve future environmental problems, it is obviously another of those "nice expert excuses" the country ruling experts use to create money "launching activities" to various pockets at home and abroad.

    Look around Nigeria, anyone and everyone using their your naked eyes will see all the environmental problems from oil spills, air polution, noise, river and sea polutions to garbage invasion all over the place. You do not need a satellite to send images to be analyzed by any scientist or group.The best satellite to be launched by Nigeria is its own people by educating them about the environment and conservation policies.

    The whole exercise boils down to launching monies into space that will falls on another persons backyard and sooner or later. We are just hooked on spending on grandiose projects. This is the real science of the whole project.

    An investment? Yet to see that until we clean up mind set.

    Good luck my beloved country but remember to use and listen your people.


  • Comment number 7.

    Nigeria, outspends Australia on space !

  • Comment number 8.

    Arguably,$50 million budget by Nigeria for a Space Program could be spent on roads and other infrastructures. But, the fact that Nigerians engineers and scientists are building these satalites is impressive and laudable. Every Nigerians should be proud. Africans brain-drain to the West is real. Can anyone imagine if Nigeria and the rest of African countries make conditions condusive at home in terms of infrastructure and other incentives, most,if not all the brains in diaspora will be home working on moving African countries from developing to developed countries. Among other benefits, launching satalite has led to better communication and the poliferation of mobile phones in Nigeria.
    If satalite/radar can provide better weather forcast,water and land management, that would be a good thing. Better weather forcast would safe lives.

  • Comment number 9.

    I do not think any nation have gotten out of proverty by spending all of it resource solely on reducing poverty, in fact most nations get out poverty by developing new industries (for the country)an providing manufactoring jobs for the population, which the space programmed seem to be specifically design to do anyway.

    An I think it is narrowed minded of people to think that the only way to get out of poverty is by spending on agriculture and education (from the article I am going to take a guest an say that most of there budget is spent of education anyway, PHDs and MScs are not cheap)general infrastructure such a roads an hospitals. I think this is wrong an no country I know have gotten most of it population of poverty by spending cash only in those areas, if there is one point it out to me.

  • Comment number 10.

    Well that is a step up from launching water rockets.

    I say let them have there dream, I hope they manage to sustain them selfs and develop high technologies which will not only save them selfs but most likely us one day.

    Id say Nigeria has done this to show that they have the skills and talents just like we all do, when we you stick our minds to it.

    Chicken Rice and Peas in Space!

  • Comment number 11.

    From reading the article it seems clear that Nigeria's space budget is aimed squarely at helping their country move forward both by providing access to high value satellite based data and communications and creating technical capabilities in the kind of industry that will reap rewards in the twenty-first century. To give a country a future requires more than simply food and medical care.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just what we need, especially given our inability to provide our longsuffering people with healthcare, electricity, pipe-borne water, basic infrastructure, or a decent education. If only these so-called "leaders" we've produced understood the word "shame."

  • Comment number 13.

    Isn't it funny that no matter what Nigeria tries to do, many people, especially Nigerians are quick to disparage it? They already abound here too. What is wrong with a country investing $50 million to develop technical capabilities for its people? Isn't that what China is doing?
    Come to think of it, what is wrong with Nigeria having some broad dream of scientific prowess? When the US put men on the moon, it created a generation of proud Americans. Yet, hurrican Katrina showed that their are still poor people in the US. Many Europeans were living in squalor when Europe built all the great churches and castles that are tourist attractions today.
    So well done Nigeria, from a sometimes critical Nigerian.

  • Comment number 14.

    Again, the debate with anything is not about its essence, but rather whether its benefits are cost effective.

    Anyone can have an opinion on whether A or B should or shouldnt exist, but who holds a vaguely valid opinion on if they are cost effective relative to the other needs, both in short and long term analysis?

    No one here.

  • Comment number 15.

    Oh dear, Glory fails -
    NASA must be annoyed - the same trivial error that destroyed their Orbiting Carbon Observatory in 2009. Fairing release failure is a fairly common failure mode - its a pity they can't have someone inside to give it a kick..

  • Comment number 16.

    Robert Lucien,
    It's two fairing failures with the same model of rocket, the Taurus, so it's a cause for concern for the manufacturer as they thought they had fixed the problem after the last time.

    Oh and the X-37B is due to launch today for it's second mission. It missed the first window but there's a second around 10:30 our time link for webcast:

  • Comment number 17.

    X-37 seem like a capable craft, one got wonder why NASA stopped funding the project in the first, an how many of NASA other projects would be successful if they were allowed the proper funding, the venture star for instant.

    I also wonder what exactly its missions involve. I am not entirely convince it just test future navigation equipment.

  • Comment number 18.

    The X37-B just launched successfully on the OTV-2 mission after having to scrub yesterday,though they ended the broadcast right around the time the X37-B was due to detach from the Centaur booster as the rest of the mission is secret; at least until some amateur astronomer nails down the orbit. :)

  • Comment number 19.

    I noticed there has been many comments made , pro-con, about the space programs in India, and Nigeria. Any comment being made should be seen in current perspective : economic and political, and ofcourse checking proper FACTS (Squiz of Islington ). Please do remember the author of this article has pointed out the economic benefits of a space program. For a developing country in this century , I think its absolutely necessary to keep options open. Ofcourse good judgment is required in this matter.
    As far as Nigeria and India ( which already has a thriving space program for at-least 2 decades) goes they are not in abject poverty, which again is an understatement. Both are developing nations , the later had a growth rate of approximately 9%, and ofcourse sovereign nations.
    As far as India goes, its people are support their space program (ISRO), and it seems form the article, Nigerians citizen share the same belief. So please do not think that people of that country would start overthrowing their respective govt. for the space program.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am amazed at the comparison on Nigeria to India or Brazil in some of the comments made. I even note some comments refer to the $50 million as "investment" and lastly one commentator suggests that the $50 million would be spent on education ("MSc... dont come cheap).

    Perhaps Nigeria is where it is today because we Nigerians lack basic understanding of technology, business and econmics (to name but a few). We are all very eloquent in our use of language, which probably stems from our strong oral tradition. We however lack an understanding of the words we speak and read. Indeed some of the comments posted would be questioned by my primary school age daughter.

    1. Nigeria does not have a manufacturing economy. The Nigerian engineers on this programme would be considered lucky if the get to tighten 1 bolt on the system. India manufactures cars, light bulbs etc.. Brazil even manufactures planes

    2. $50 mill spent on Education.. An expensive MSc/Phd may set you back $20000/a..Are we sponsoring 2500 students /a on this programme?

    3. Hi-tech for Nigeria could start with manufacturing candles, pencils, slippers (fli flops), kerosene lanterns, instants noodles etc to name but a few basic items still imported into Nigeria on a mass scale.

    4. A lot of countries with better communication infrastructure than Nigeria do not own a single sattelite in space

    And by the way, I am Nigerian and proud of the country. Blind pride does not pay anyone. We should be critcal of some of the decisions made by our rulers and hold them accountable. Just because we launched 1 Satelite does not mean we should carry on without check.

  • Comment number 21.

    India is not the only country that cannot provide 24x7 power, some developed countries struggle as well:

    However by 2020 India will have a space program and most likely 24x7 supply, where as we will have neither.

    Oh dear, UK PLCs decline continues.

    In my experience societies that look forward and welcome science such as space programs do well, such as the US / China / India. Countries that look backwards, and think anything sciency is a waste of time tend to end up going no where such as SA/Zim etc.

    Mud huts here we come.

  • Comment number 22.

    I disagree with a lot of these short sighted comments. I'm sure Nigeria fritters away a lot more than £50 million on trivial matters let alone officials pockets. This is a valuable investment for the country in increasing its infrastructure. Satellite technology is becoming increasingly important and they need their own engineers to understand their own needs. Its good also that SSTL in the UK are contributing and building relations like this, everyones a winner in my opinion.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think there are many ways to "look ahead" as a nation and a world-community, without doing "me too" projects in space; this jump to space is more about Ego than Knowledge. The fact that the human animal can raise its head to look longingly at the stars, is much less important than humanity learning to walk upright, which we seem as yet to have conquered.

    Humans have not demonstrated the Reason to turn the information we already have into Knowledge. I fail to see how more information will resolve that dilemma, in Nigeria or any other human tribe.

    We have a moral obligation to return our world to a sustainable state of balance before we " our private havoc through the known and unknown lands of space..." (with apologies to James Taylor).

  • Comment number 24.

    Yes, a space programme will help build scientific capacity, but surely there are more pressing needs? 58% of Nigeria's population have clean drinking water
    32% have a decent place to go to the toilet. (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme)
    Diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children under 5 in Africa (as shown by a recent Lancet study)

    The government's director of water said in 2004, "I have 50,000 communities needing water but this year we could fund projects in just 2809 of them." Hardly surprising when the annual water budget is just $54m. In order to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015, this sum would have to increase by $266m (according to WaterAid Nigeria). $50m from a space programme would go a long way towards that.


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