Overview of space exploration in Nigeria: challenges and solutions for the effective operation of the sector

Written by: George Etomi & Partners

In 2003 the nation’s first satellite, NigSat was built in collaboration with Surrey Space Technology (SST) in the UK and launched in Plesetsk, Russia, as part of a world disaster monitoring and relief constellation. Since that launch, Nigeria has made progressive steps to establish itself as Africa’s powerhouse in terms of science and technological development in space exploration.

The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) was established with a view of breaking new frontiers through space exploration. The Agency was established with the main objective to pursue the development and application of space focused science and technology for the socio-economic benefits of the nation.

This report aims to provide an overview of the regulatory framework of space law in Nigeria and consider the benefits of exploration of space using satellites. In addition, it will look at the major problem plaguing the sector and it shall consider a possible solution to the issue as highlighted.

REGULATORY FRAMEWORK OF SPACE LAW

The National Space Research and Development Act (2010) is the primary legislation governing the operation of space related activities. The Act established the National Space Research and Development Agency and the National Space Council which is the highest policy making body for space science and technological development in the country. Nigeria is also a party state to the space treaties of the United Nations, which have been ratified by the National Assembly.

In view of executing its mandate as effectively as possible, the NASDRA adopted a multi-institution strategy, thus establishing six centres namely:

  1. The Centre for Basic Space Science and Astronomy
  2. The National Centre for Remote Sensing
  3. The Centre for Satellite Technology Development
  4. The Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics
  5. The African Regional Centre for Space and Technology Education
  6. The Centre for Space Transport & Propulsion

The Technical and International Cooperation Committees help in shaping the Agency’s programmes while the Centres are activity centres for the nation’s space programmes.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SATELITES

It may come as a surprise to many that Nigeria has a budding space program, however the sector has been breaking new grounds regarding the undertaking of regular socio-economic tasks such as security surveillance, weather predictions, agriculture control and so on. The main means of exploring the vast black is by launching a satellite. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a satellite is an object that moves around a larger object. Earth is a satellite because it moves around the sun. The moon is a satellite because it moves around Earth. Earth and the moon are called “natural” satellites.

But usually when someone says “satellite,” they are talking about a “man-made” satellite. Man-made satellites are machines made by people. These machines are launched into space and orbit Earth or another body in space.

Thus, the benefits of the usage of satellites cannot be mitigated as capture below.

i. Surveillance and Security Control

The location of a satellite allows them to provide a view of a vast area of earth at a glance. This vital tool is an asset as it allows the satellite collect data faster and more effectively than the instruments on the ground.

Prior to the advent of satellites, telephone and television signals could not travel far due to obstructions in the form of large buildings, mountains and other objects. In addition, these signals only travelled in straight lines instead of following the curve of the earth.  However, satellites provide a medium for these signals to be sent upward to a satellite then almost instantly, the satellite can send them back down to different locations on earth

For instance: the recently launched Nige`riaSat-X has the capacity to capture 100 percent of Nigeria’s landmarks and these images are submitted for the purpose of national planning and development.

In addition, following arguably the most controversial attack by the terrorist group known as Boko Haram i.e. the kidnapping of the Chibok Girls, the nation relied upon the images provided by the satellites to have a clear view of the Sambisa Forest.

ii.  Agricultural Purposes

The utilization of a satellite will make it easier to the explore the country and assess the rate of crop cultivation in the different parts of Nigeria. Furthermore, it will allow farmers assess the areas with the best soil and the areas that require more attention. The satellites will also monitor large scale food production and calculate likely shortages and allow the state take preventive measures to overcome these shortcomings.

iii. Disaster Management

This often refers to the satellite’s ability to predict weather forecasts in order to aptly prepare in the event of a natural disaster. Satellites are used to assess the state of the environment and alert the operators in the event that a change in weather is about to occur. As a testament of the credibility of the highly skilled scientists and engineers that constitute the nation’s space program, in 2005 NigeriaSat-1 was the first satellite to send back pictures of the east coast of the US following Hurricane Katrina.

The NigeriaSats are also part of the International Disaster Monitoring Constellation, coordinated by SST. This network of satellites includes Chinese, Spanish and UK spacecraft that can provide rapid images from space when environmental disasters strike.

iv.  National Planning

Another socio-economic advantage of the usage of satellites includes the ability to use the high-resolution images of the country for urban planning, population control, tax collection and assessment of electoral boundaries ahead of national general elections. It is used to effectively manage the rapidly growing population of Africa’s giant and monitor the distribution of resources according to demand.

CHALLENGES AFFECTING SATELLITE EXPLORATION

The major problem that is plaguing the NASRDA is the unavailability of sufficient funds to effectively execute their mandate. The Centre for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD) has attested to the wealth in human capital the country possesses; however, they lack the financial support to set up the Assembly Integration and Testing (AIT) centres, which is at the heart of the space programme.

The CSTD also require funds to purchase the effective devices to back-up the institutions data. Every institution should have a reliable back-up facility in the event of a natural disaster or an accident that tarnishes the centre’s resources.

Private sector investment is also required for the infrastructural advancement of the sector. As stated earlier, the nation is rich in human capital, however continuous training is required in order to maintain global competitiveness. Also, the creation of a Design Centre and an Assembling and Integration Centre would allow Nigerians build satellites domestically, thus cutting costs and creating an additional source of revenue by monetizing the facility in the event that other nations desire to utilize our facilities.

SOLVING THE PROBLEMS OF SATELLITE EXPLORATION

To solve the issue of insufficient funds to achieve their mandate, the sector should be privatized so as to raise sufficient funds and encourage the level of training required to achieve the full potential of the sector. Alternatively, the stakeholders may consider Public-Private Partnerships between the government and private individuals.

Furthermore, the National Space Research and Development Act (2010) may make a provision for the implementation of a separate fund for the attainment of space related solutions and research. This fund would ensure easy access and disbursement of the funds generated for the purpose of the development of the sector.

It is also important for the Federal Government to undertake enlightenment programs to acquaint private sector investors and the general public of the benefits associated with satellite exploration.

CONCLUSION

Nigeria has made progressive steps to cement its place as a major player in the global space exploration sector. However, funds are required in order to unlock the full potential of the sector.

Advancement in space poses a world of untapped advantages in terms of national security, food security, communication, agricultural management and the overall development of the nation which Nigeria requires as a nation to boost economic growth and development.

George Etomi & Partners was established in 1984 and is one of Nigeria’s foremost commercial law firms with offices strategically located in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt. The Firm has represented and continue to represent clients in market leading transactions in Nigeria by adopting a constructive and analytic approach to different concerns of clients, offering advice and facilitating the development of their businesses




New Report: The African space economy is now worth USD 7 billion and is projected to grow at a 7.3% compound annual growth rate to exceed USD 10 billion by 2024. Read the executive summary of the African Space Industry Report - 2019 Edition to learn more about the industry. You can order the report online.



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