Space exploration used to be a luxurious means of technological and technical might for the United States of America and the defunct Soviet Union until other developed nations realized the potential of space technology in navigating real-life national challenges and improving the conditions of living on earth and its economy. They realized that materials discovered in the space world can be well used as a tool to address national challenges.
Nigeria, among other developing nations also followed suit, directing their substantial resources to exploit outer space programmes for socioeconomic gains, as well as national pride among the committee of nations.
According to the Guardian Newspaper; The Minister of Science and Technology, also, had in 2016, announced plans by Nigeria to send an astronaut into space by year 2030, as part of its drive to develop a worldclass space industry.
Few people know — or remember — that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) built the first satellite earth station in Nigeria the NASA Tracking Station 5, in 1961 in Kano to monitor the Gemini and Apollo space missions. But the station was closed in 1963 before both missions were concluded in 1966 and 1972, respectively. In 1976, at an ECOWAS meeting in Addis Ababa, Nigeria first declared its space ambition, and it took about 23 years to set up a space agency. In May 1999, the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) was established. Currently, Nigeria’s space programme is managed by NASRDA. And in 2000, the National Space Policy (NSP) was approved, and a 25-year roadmap for its implementation was endorsed in 2005.
Several benefits can be derived from a well-managed space programme of a country. Space technology with all that comes with it is a national asset that can be reused to develop new products and processes, to the benefit of economic growth in new companies, new jobs, and the resulting contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (national economy at large).
Practices of many industrialized nations have shown that space program has contributed to the development of commercial products and services in the areas of – Industry Health, Goods and services, Computer technology, Machinery, AI, ICT, – Medicine, Agriculture –– And the environment.
SPACE AND AFRICA
According to the 2020 African Space Industry Annual Report, made available to The Guardian by Space in Africa, which provided analyses on the growing demand for space technologies and data on the continent, Africa has spent over $4 billion on satellite development and launch so far. Despite the ongoing global pandemic, Africa invested more money in the space and satellite industry in 2020, as demand for space data continued to increase at an exponential rate on the continent. In its 2019 industry report, Space in Africa reported that the industry was over $7 billion of annual revenues and projected it to grow at a 7.3 percent compound annual growth rate to exceed $10 billion by 2024. According to analysis, 2019 was the best year in the history of the African space industry with over $717 million spent on satellite projects. In the same year, governments and institutions from five African countries launched eight new satellites, bringing the total number of African satellites to arrive in orbit to 41, while the number of African countries with at least one satellite in space increased to 11. With more satellites being developed by institutions across the continent, more African countries are joining the league. It is estimated that by 2024, at least 19 African countries would have launched a satellite and the total number of African satellites would reach 110. According to the 2020 industry report, satellite programmes on the continent faced great hurdles in terms of proper budgetary allocations, disruption in production and logistics, and unstable international outlook as a result of COVID-19. As of July 2020, 19 African countries have established or begun the process of creating a space program. Of these 19 States, 15 have signed the Outer Space Treaty, 14 have signed the Rescue Agreement, 12 have signed the Liability Convention, four have signed the Registration Convention, and only Morocco has signed the Moon Agreement. Nevertheless, while other countries are making efforts to advance in space exploration, Nigeria, despite establishing and investing billions of naira in the development of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) is redundant.
Nigeria is a relatively young democracy, as such, it faces unique challenges in recovering from its past. Corruption was a huge issue within the military dictatorship of the late 20th century. Corruption today forms part of the foundation of many policies both in private and public sector. Addressing this issue within the government and the Nigerian space community is necessary to establish public trust in the government’s space goals.
With the growing success of commercial launch vehicles lowering the cost of launching satellites into space, many more countries can afford access to space. While the goal to have domestic capabilities is admirable, Nigeria may be missing out on a larger opportunity to take advantage of falling launch costs. Nigeria currently does not have any launch system in development and relies on Chinese and Russian rockets to launch its satellites into orbit. Technical issues for Nigeria start with the capacity of its workforce and a framework for learning, teaching, and retaining workers. China has become increasingly interested in investing in emerging space programs as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). To build a national technical base, NASRDA is also working with the U.K.- based company Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) to build satellites. As part of these projects, Nigeria has required capacity training for Nigerian engineers to learn how to construct and design satellites.
Amid the tough economic times globally caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian government decided to revisit a 2014 report written which made multiple recommendations that were never enacted. President Buhari decided to revisit this report and consider the advice due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these recommendations is transitioning NigComSat to a fully commercial venture, therefore suspending any government funding. The Nigerian government has decided to pursue this goal so long as NigComSat can secure funding from outside sources. However, in the meantime, the government has reallocated NigComSat’s research and development funding to NASRDA. These adjustments, as well as others from the aforementioned report, will be worthwhile changes to allow NASRDA to focus on replacing their aging communications satellites and work toward other future space goals. If Nigeria wants to reach its goal of launching a Nigerian satellite into space on a Nigerian rocket, it will likely have to dramatically increase funding to its space program by orders of magnitude. More resources, both financial and material need to be put into the Nigerian Space program in order to actualize its benefits.
While the Nigerian space program has stated its goal to launch a Nigerian built satellite on a Nigerian-built and located vehicle, perhaps a more useful goal is to leverage space for the socio-economic development of the country through observation and security technologies. Nigeria, in particular, could benefit from Earth-observation data to track crop production, monitor desertification of the northernmost part of the country, or assist with the fight against Boko Haram. If the government of Nigeria chooses to continue the development of a Nigerian launch vehicle, it should consider expanding its capacity by building programs to include rocket design and manufacturing. However, the Nigerian government needs to address some fundamental issues such as poverty and corruption that could hinder achievement of its goals for NASRDA. Nigeria needs to increase investments in space technology that will directly lead to improving the quality of life in parts of the country that have not seen as many benefits from the country’s economic development. This may also help to build public support and confidence in NASRDA and the Nigerian government overall. With the support of foreign governments or other global organizations, the Nigerian government may be able to more quickly meet its space goals. Focusing on indigenous satellite operations and development would greatly improve the benefit of the space program for average Nigerians. Building out its national technical base could create more jobs, increase education levels, and decrease dependence on foreign technology. If major strategic plans are designed and relevant teams set in place, Nigeria will definitely have her own way also, in the space industry development by continuing to be a leader in African space exploration and utilization as Space Investment is a major key to national economic development.
Tyler Way 2020, “Challenges and Opportunities of Nigeria’s Space Program”, Aerospace via https://aerospace.csis.org/challenges-andopportunities-of-nigerias-space-program/
Chukuwuma Muanya & Victor Uzoho 2021. “How far with Nigeria Space Dream?”, The Guardian Newspaper via https://guardian.ng/features/howfar-with-nigerias-space-dream/
Olufemi A. Agboola 2011, “Building a shared vision for space in Africa” The 4th African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development-ALC-2011.
Written By: ‘Seun Akinade – (Associate).