Replacing Nigerian Satellite gone past design life; The journey so far

image credit: Defense News Nigeria

Nigeria’s first satellite, NigeriaSat-1, was launched on September 27, 2003, and on August 17, 2011, a replacement, NigeriaSat-2, the most powerful imaging spacecraft ever sent into orbit, was launched. An equivalent satellite, NigeriaSat-X, was co-launched with NigeriaSat-2 at the Yasny military base in Russia.

On May 13, 2007, the country’s and Africa’s first communications satellite, NigComsat-1, was launched at an overall cost of  USD 300 million. It de-orbited on November 11, 2008, and a replacement, NigComsat-1R, was launched on December 19, 2011.

The cost of both satellites was USD 48.4 million, including launch and insurance. NigeriaSat-1 cost the country USD 13 million. Both NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X have a design life of seven years.

In 2014, six years after it has outlived its design life, NigeriaSat-1 was decommissioned by engineers and scientists of the National Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA, burning up in a controlled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Nigeria’s EduSat-1 was launched on 3 June 2017. The entire cost of the project, including building and launch, was USD 500,000. EduSat-1 de-orbited on 13 May 2019.

Of Nigeria’s six satellites: NigeriaSat-1, NigComSat-1, and EduSat-1 are no longer in orbit. That leaves three active satellites: NigComSat-1R, a communications satellite, NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, an Earth observation satellites.

The design life of NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X ended in 2018, although they are still in orbit and working, but not optimally. The design life of NigComSat-1R will end in 2025.

Nigeria plans for NigeriaSat-3 and NigeriaSAR-1 to replace the two Earth observation satellites, NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, that have outlived their design lives.

The Acting Director-General of NASRDA, Dr Francis Chizea, presented a paper on the urgent need to replace the satellites to Nigeria’s highest advisory body on science, the National Council on Science, Technology and Innovation (NCSTI), in its 18th meeting held at Abuja in December 2020.

The NCSTI passed a resolution asking the Federal Government of Nigeria to replace the satellites by 2021. But this might be put on hold temporarily as Nigeria’s economy had entered a recession in the second quarter of 2020.

This recession is primarily attributed to reducing the global oil prices caused by the Covid-19 pandemic since the oil sector provides for 95 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and 80 per cent of its budgetary revenues. This is Nigeria’s second recession in four years: the first was in 2019, the country’s first in 10 years.

The good news is that Nigeria exited recession in the first quarter of 2021 with a growth rate of 1.9 per cent after growing by 0.11 per cent in the last quarter of 2020.

President Muhammadu Buhari has sent nominated Dr Ahmad Halilu, Director of Space Applications in NASRDA, to the Nigerian Senate for confirmation as the third substantive Director-General of the agency. With a new Director-General, Nigeria’s space and satellite aspirations to replace satellites past their design lives and launch new satellites into orbit may soon be achieved.

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