Deterioration of space agency: What happened to Nigeria’s N18 billion satellites?
The Nigeria’s National Space Research Development Agency (NASRDA) was established more than two decades after the country increased its participation in space science and technology by directing an initial $93 million to space investment. But today, the agency remains farthest away from its expected outcome.
According to a report by the People’s Gazette, the apparent inability of Nigeria to reach two of its earth observation satellites (NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X) with a total value of over £ 35 million (N18.2 billion) underscores the comatose condition of the once virile age of space.
Although the agency had a very difficult start in the early 2000s, partnerships with the UK-based technology corporation, SSTL, led to the launch in 2003 of Nigeria’s first satellite, NigeriaSat-1, allegedly worth $30 million.
The agency fell into a downward spiral in late 2007 following the ill-fated launch of the Chinese-built communications satellite, NigComSat-1.
Just a year after its launch, the orbiter, estimated at over $300 million, failed in space. It was later replaced by NigComSat-1R, which currently provides Nigeria’s Internet and broadcast services.
With the phasing out of Nigeria’s first satellite, NigeriaSat-1, by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the country’s newest spacecraft (NigeriaSat-2/X) was launched in 2011 from a Russian military base by a Ukrainian rocket, officials said.
Earth observation satellites have been programmed to relay information to a ground receiving station located at the NASRDA base in Abuja for an undisclosed sum of money.
Deplorable state of ground station equipment
Aerospace said that because of the “inoperative” ground station, NASRDA has long been unable to obtain information from the country’s earth observation satellites.
A NASRDA employee disclosed that “We can’t access our geographical information satellites since the ground station broke down completely in 2014,” according to the report by People’s Gazette.
According to another source: “If we need information about our geographical information system, it’s either we go to other countries that have satellites that cover Nigeria or we pay China to access our satellites and download information for us.”
Nevertheless, there are claims that the moribund condition of the ground station was due to the poor interest in science and technology of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and the power of a “strong cabal” within the agency that profits from the estacodes derived from frequent foreign trips to procure information from satellites in Nigeria.
Huge loss in revenue
For breakdown of the ground station, many Nigerians believed it resulted in the loss of revenue for the country.
“The earth observation satellites cover the whole of West and East Africa,” an official said. “A lot of countries in these sub-regions do not have satellite stations. So, they usually paid (a) substantial amount (of money) for NASRDA to get geographical information about their regions.”
“We also need these services for ourselves. One of the satellites is meant to detect natural disasters before they happen, while the other is meant to take images at least once a day to capture migration of people, which can be useful in the fight against terrorism,” the source added.
According to a Nigerian economist, Chuma Eze, he said that if properly operated, the satellites would have the ability to input a large amount of revenue into the Nigerian economy.
Mr. Eze said “If they prioritise servicing the satellite, Nigeria could earn good revenues to shore up its dwindling resources by providing critical information to other Sub-Saharan Africa countries”.
The state of offices in the agency shows how it has remained redundant for years. Sources said it was due to the defective ground station.
According to an official, “Out of over 1000 workers at the Abuja head office, far less than 100 actually have anything to do,”. “Isn’t it awkward that for a science agency like NASRDA, the only active departments are the ones handling administration, educational training, procurement, and accounts?”
Despite its nonfunctional state, approved budget of the federal government shows that agency is still receiving budgetary allocations from the federal government.
Peoples gazette said that NASRDA’s salaries and wages in the 2021 fiscal plan were pegged at over N3 billion. Checks by the Gazette on the agency’s 2021 budget also uncovered repetitive budgetary provisions.