Developing Nigeria’s Space industry: The need for a more definitive legal framework

For over 50 years developed countries such as the USA and the former Soviet Union have led the world’s space exploration industry. However, fast-forward to the 21st century, with information and technology becoming more available and accessible, the gap between developed and developing nations’ space activities is closing. China, with its rapid development, has become one of the world’s leading space-faring nations. Other developing countries are also following this trend, for example; Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Pakistan all own and operate their own satellites in their efforts to speed up the development of their nation.[1] The Nigerian Government has shown enthusiasm for this industry by announcing its plans to launch Nigeria’s first astronaut into space by the year 2030.[2] Although there is an ongoing controversy surrounding the high cost of funding National Space activities, various supporters of the industry cite benefits in areas such as politics, natural disasters, and business.

It is pertinent to note that space exploration and development has generally been the province of Governments, however, private sector, profit-driven firms are beginning to see the benefits of the industry and have begun investing in commercial space activities. [3] Nigeria’s Space industry is developing slowly with the backing of the Nigerian Government; however, the absence of private sector investment and a weak regulatory system are somewhat hindering the industry’s growth. Many governments are turning to the private sector to provide funding to launch technology and satellite capacity. The Nigerian government needs to focus its efforts on designing a well-defined institutional and regulatory system that will effectively manage Nigeria’s Space Program and at the same time regulate, support, and encourage private sector investment in space research and development. Once we can achieve this as a nation the benefits of space research and technology will become easily achievable.

The benefits of space research and exploration

Since the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, “SPUTNIK” by the Soviet Union (Russia), the exploration of space and the utilization of space resources, science, and technology have become dominant factors in the socio-economic development of many countries. “SPUTNIK” amongst other satellites contributed critical knowledge for developing space telecommunications, global positioning, and advances in weather forecasting. Space research and technologies now have an impact on almost every aspect of our daily lives. Take for example the mobile phone camera. The cameras we see on most if not all smartphones today came from the need to have a camera small enough to fit in a space suit or space vehicle. Space research and exploration are fundamental to the socio-economic development of Nigeria

Space exploration contributes to advances in science and technology, which in turn impacts the industrial capabilities of a nation. It also leads to advancements in methods of communication, healthcare, and disaster management. Satellite technologies give a nation more control over its natural resources, agricultural development, transportation, and national security. Satellites use remote sensing technology that provides key data for monitoring soil, weather, natural resource deposits, and GPS navigation and tracking.  Furthermore, space exploration and the use of satellite technologies help a nation like Nigeria, where education is not always accessible in remote rural areas to bridge this access gap.[4] Having a national space program is also said to encourage the youth to take up careers in science, technology, and other related fields for the general benefit of society and the economy.[5

Nigeria has benefited from the use of satellite communications in a number of ways. During the 2011 presidential elections, The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) used data from its satellites for the purpose of election monitoring. Such data provided electoral officials with the necessary means to locate small settlements and groups of people who were not represented on state maps.

The benefits of space exploration and research extend beyond a national level. Over the years, international law has played a big role in ensuring the equitable sharing by all State Parties of the benefits derived from outer space exploration. The sharing of such benefits will lead to equal development opportunities between nations.

Current Status of Nigeria’s Space program

The benefits of space are without a doubt extremely important to a nation’s socio-economic development in the 21st century. However, it must be stressed that in order to realize the potential benefits of space research and exploration a nation must have in place, a strong institutional and regulatory framework. Despite the many handicaps that come with being a developing country, the Nigerian Government has taken steps on both a national and international level to become more actively involved in space activities

International Law

Since mankind began entering space for exploration and research purposes, space activities have been governed by international laws. Nigeria is party to the following international treaties: The Outer Space Treaty (1967), The Rescue Agreement 1968, The Liability Convention (1972) and The Registration Convention (1979). Additionally, Nigeria is also a member of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO), an intergovernmental organization charged with overseeing the public service obligations of Intelsat (a communication satellite service provider).[6

National Legal Framework

The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) Act 2010 established the National Space Research and Development Agency to encourage capacity building in space science technology development and manage the development of satellite technology for various applications and finally enhance the development and entrenchment of research. Apart from establishing the Agency, the Act also defines the functions of the Agency, which are mainly, to set up a national space council, keep a register of all space objects, and provide policies and laws regulating licensing of activities.

A national space policy was also created to guide the development of the nation’s space program and activities. The said policy makes suggestions regarding what has to be done in order to achieve the objectives and goals of the Space Program.

The Nigerian Communications Act was created to provide a regulatory framework for the Nigerian communications industry and all matters related. The Act guides the Nigerian Communication Commission in the licensing of those involved in the satellite communications industry. For example, mobile network operators and satellite television providers.


National Institutional Framework

The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA). Nigeria began its space program with the establishment of NASRDA. The Agency was established in April 1999 and has successfully launched 5 satellites into space to date. The agency was set up to consolidate all Space Science and Technology-related activities in order to vigorously pursue the attainment of space capabilities as an essential tool for its socio-economic development and enhancement of the quality of life of its people. The Agency was set up alongside six operational centers dealing with the various disciplines related to space science and technology.  These are; the Centre for Basic Space Science, Centre for Remote Sensing, Centre for Satellite Technology Development, Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, Centre for Space Transport & Propulsion, and the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education.

Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT) is a company set up to be the leading communication satellite operator and service provider in Africa. The Company was incorporated in April 2006 as a company incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990.

National Space Council

As provided by the NASRDA Act A National Space Council for the agency, chaired by the sitting president was established. Although we have not heard much of the Council’s activities since late 2013, it shows that Nigeria is moving in the right direction.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Federal Ministry of Science & Technology, and The National assembly Committees on Science and Technology are other government bodies and agencies that are related to space science and technology.

The Need For A Well-Defined Regulatory Framework

The various international instruments of space law generally cover space activities, however, a number of states have developed their own national regulatory frameworks to suit their specific needs in terms of their level of involvement and the activities they conduct. States have also developed National space legislation to accommodate private, non-governmental involvement in space activities due to the obligations placed on member states by the United Nations. The Outer Space Treaty states that parties shall bear international responsibility for space activities and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with international law, whether such activities are carried out by governmental agencies or non-governmental entities.

According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), Nigeria does not have any form of national space legislation. This is quite surprising since The NASRDA Act was intended to act as a Domestic regulatory framework for Nigeria’s Space science and Technology industry; yet, on close review of them, it is clear they do not cover the many aspects of space activities our nation is or intends to be involved in. So, we must ask ourselves, what do we need in more in-depth, robust domestic laws?

Encourage and regulate private sector participation

A well-defined regulatory framework will encourage and increase the participation of non-governmental entities in space activities. Gone are the days when a nation’s space research and exploration activities are exclusively conducted by the government. Private entities want to benefit from the various offshoots of space science and technology; however, there is no definitive licensing procedure or law regulating their entry and operation in the field. Furthermore, low orbit and geostationary orbit zones are becoming overcrowded, as more and more satellites are being launched into space. To prevent this The United Nations are urging nations to provide domestic legislation to guide those involved with the launch and positioning of satellites.

Regulate international Partnerships

The United Nations has stressed the importance of sharing the benefits gained from space science and technology to encourage equal development opportunities for all nations. Many nations, particularly developing nations require the entering of bilateral or multilateral agreements in order to make use of outer space (satellite launches) or use information gathered from space-related research. A well define space legislation will provide a guide to the entering of such contracts.

International law

Existing international laws impose obligations on governments that cannot be transferred to private bodies. Not having a robust domestic space law means firstly, there is no law to ensure those involved in space-related activities do not violate a nation’s international obligation or undermine its national security and foreign policy interests. Secondly, it means Nigeria’s space activities will continue being regulated and guided by the various international treaties in areas that domestic law does not provide for. For example, imagine debris from a Nigerian satellite falls into the earth or remains in space, therefore causing an international dispute, the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects would be the source of law used in determining Nigeria’s Liability. The lack of a complete space law would make the assessment of liability with regard to space debris and contamination caused by private bodies difficult for the Nigerian government.

Support socio-economic development

The lack of an overseeing regulatory framework is a handicap to the future development of the industry. Therefore, not the industry is unable to add value to the country’s economic development. Space technology has the potential to solve the many issues we face as a developing nation. Satellite technology enhances mobile telecommunication networks, and satellite television and can be used to improve resource management. A well-defined regulatory framework will help speed up the industry’s growth.


Conclusion & Suggestions

Although there is no specific or binding obligation on states to enact their own national space legislation, the practical implementation of specific treaties such as; Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty and the Liability Convention, has led to a number of states creating their own national space legislation. If Nigeria intends to be the main participant in the space research and exploration industry, the enactment of state-of-the-art national space legislation is extremely necessary.

We recommend that in order to reach the objectives and goals set out by the national space policy, a National Space commission, made up of experts with proven track records should be set up alongside NASDRA to give advice and guide the government on matters related to the future development of the space industry. Lawmakers must begin drafting new more definitive legislation to cover space science and its related industries. The areas of focus should be; proper licensing and authorization procedures, strict guidelines to the building of satellites and launch sites, and most importantly the assessment of liability. We further urge the government to begin plans to set up a national institute for space law that can be used as an educational and developmental establishment.



[1] has joined the space race. Others should join too.”

[2] plans to send an astronaut to space by 2030”

[3] National Laws Governing Commercial Space Activities: Legislation, Regulation, & Enforcement” Paul Stephen Dempsey


[5] Benefits Stemming from Space Exploration” International Space Exploration Coordination Group




Written By: Roberto Akerele