Just like the United States, Russia, China and other advanced countries that have taken space technology seriously, Nigeria is equally exploring the possibility of keying into what has now become a goldmine.The future and economy in the 21st Century is knowledge-based and technology-driven. So, to catch up with other countries, Nigeria must learn fast enough.
For the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), a Nigerian astronaut will not just be going there for show but for a micro-gravity research, basically on food security and some peculiar diseases of interest to Nigeria and the African race.
NASRDA said Nigerian astronauts can find out how hybrid food peculiar to the country can be gotten faster. Crystal growth, which is found in space can also be used by them to make things such as aircraft engine, rocket nozzle and rocket engine, among others, which can be done in space because they are usually combined on earth where there is gravity pulling them. But in space, there is low gravity so they form differently; you study what happens here and there.
Director, Engineering and Space Systems of the agency, Prof. Olufemi Agboola said: “You know their properties very well; then you can begin to make your own.”
Head, Media and Corporate Communications of the agency, Dr. Felix Ale said Nigeria is working seriously on sending astronauts to the moon.
“It is our desire to produce an astronaut for this country and the purpose is to go to the moon and carry out an experiment that will be of great benefit to the country”, Ale said.
However, the Acting Director-General of the Agency, Mr. Jonathan Angulu, said from all indications, Nigeria is far behind in achieving its dream.
According to him, the biggest concern of the agency is to see how it can get the Assembling Integration and Test Centre (AITC) completed because that will guide them towards greater achievements in space technology.
Angulu added: “We also need to ensure that our ground station keeps running. Unfortunately, most of the equipment we have are obsolete and we are trying to see how we can upgrade them. The Federal Executive Council, 10 years ago, approved the project (Assembling Integration and Test Centre), civil work and the equipment was supposed to run simultaneously.”
Prof. Agboola also revealed that the cost of achieving the dream is enormous because it is cheaper to take a satellite to space than to take human beings. Satellites, he said, do not have to breathe when it gets there and if it gets crushed or spoilt, it can be replaced while humans cannot be replaced.
He added that for humans to go to space, more time will be spent training them and the cost of the training to survive space and the journey to space is more expensive than sending a satellite there. Also, astronauts are preferred to be high level scientists or engineers and must know how to fly. So, it’s going to be a handshake between pilots in the Air Force, scientists and engineers.
Currently, Nigeria’s satellites in space are Nigeria Sat 1, which is an earth observation satellite that observes the earth. It has cameras on it to look down on earth and can cover the whole Nigeria in a few passes. It is there in space and comes back every day and it can be gotten to revisit something and see what has happened in one week or a month and has a history of what has happened. That is called scientific data that can be used to predict things that will happen, using mathematical regression to predict what can happen in 100 years.
When there is warfare by the military, it is used for the purpose as well. For instance, when there was a coup in Mali, some of Nigerian satellites took pictures to help the military.
Another is the Nigeria Sat X, which was built by Nigerian engineers. Then the Nigeria Sat 2, which has a higher resolution. It can see more clearly than Sat 1, meaning that it can see things that are smaller. When the resolution of the lens of a satellite is not very clear, it can only see big things. So, Sat X is good for security.
Then we have a class of satellite which is the communication satellite which is in NICOMSAT.
This generates money because it does broadcasting, internet passes through it, even phone services too. It has payload that can be used to communicate but there are different classes of satellite that have not been explored.
One of these is the Synthetic Aperture Reader Satellite, which does not know about cloud or darkness. It can see through it all but it costs more and requires more technology.
The agency said these are the new set of satellites that Nigeria is considering to begin work on.
The agency’s spokesman, Dr. Ale also said its activities in the area of security cannot be 100 per cent disclosed.
“We have generated a lot of data on road construction. With our satellites, we are able to determine where bridges and culverts are to be located. And we can provide data on the locations of bad roads in the country. These have been provided to universities which have assisted in the area of capacity building.
“We use space agency in the area of agriculture. In the Southwest, we have used it in collecting data in the area of deforestation, on the eco-system in the Niger Delta and the menace of erosion in the Eastern part of the country. These have been made available to state governors to guide them on how to proffer solutions for their peculiar needs.”
He also said the Assembling Integration and Testing Centre (AITDC) is like a hub for the launch of satellite, which he said is still on 30 per cent completion. He added that the agency was relying on government’s release of funds, stressing that it’s the determination of the agency to design and launch satellites here in Nigeria.
Continuing, the spokesman said the agency had been able to train its personnel, stressing that some of its engineers were trained outside the country. According to him, the engineers can design and launch satellite.
He cited an instance during the launch of Nigeria Sat 2 when the agency came up with a model code-named Nigeria Sat X. The model, he said, was solely designed and manufactured by Nigerian engineers using facilities provided by the agency’s technical partners in the United Kingdom, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited.
Dr. Ale further stated that the satellite was meant to be a model but that when the management saw the efforts the local engineers put into the design, the agency decided to launch it in Russia, alongside Nigeria Sat 2, which it claimed is still in orbit.
According to him, NICOMSAT was deorbited because the solar panel had problems and it was replaced with NICOMSAT 1 R; the ‘R’ meaning replacement at no extra cost to Nigeria. He said it has since been commercialised and is being managed by NICOMSAT Limited, which also manages all the agency’s satellite facilities.