Mr. Felix Ale, is the head of media and corporate communications at the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Abuja. In this interview, he speaks about NASRDA and space technology.
Space technology is a novel technology developed through space science or the aerospace industry for use in spacecraft, satellites, space stations and support infrastructure, equipment and procedures. The technology has helped to understand how earth works and how it could be made healthy. Space technology has made it possible to see all pictures of the lovely globe of earth as seen from space. Some of the first of these pictures were taken by astronauts of the Apollo moon programme. The technology has done far more for earth and its inhabitants than just to inspire us with pretty pictures of our home. You are very much aware the use of satellites for transmitting TV signals and telephone calls, and for satellites navigation system such as those used in some cars and airplanes. It has also enabled us to study oceans, atmosphere, clouds, weather, rain forests, deserts, cities, farmlands, and ice sheets among others. You should not forget that we use satellites to predict the weather. We may not be able to change the weather, but having an idea ahead of time what it’s likely to do, give us the opportunity to prepare. Above all, satellite is very important to the future of life on our planet to understand how what we do affects the delicate balance of the environment. Information from satellites has enabled us to begin to understand how pollution from our cars, factories and even household products affects our atmosphere. For example, we know that certain kinds of air pollution destroy some of the ozone high up in the atmosphere. That ozone protects us and other living things from the sun’s harmful ultraviolent rays. It has further revealed that the ozone is disappearing over some parts of earth; hence we must use chemicals that are less damaging to our atmosphere. In a nutshell, Space technology has not only assisted in making the society a better place to live but it stands out today as a major tool for inspiring and radical development in human history.
Space science and technology in Nigeria
Well, I would say that we have not fully arrived but I can assure you that we are on the right track and steadily on course. Nigeria has successfully launched several satellites, which include NigeriaSat-1, NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X. These three are earth observation satellites. Nigeria launched its first communication satellite in 2007 but, unfortunately, a few months after the successful launch, there was a problem with its solar panel and the satellite was deorbited and arrangements made for its replacement without extra cost to Nigeria. This led to the re-launch of Nigcomsat-1R, which is still one of the major communication satellites in orbit today.
NigeriaSat-X was particularly a success story for us as a nation. It was solely designed and built to flight standard by Nigerian engineers, using the facilities of our technical partners in the United Kingdom. I can tell you that our success story so far in the critical area of satellite business has been quite inspiring. Nigeria is not only a member of the global disaster monitoring constellations (DMC) but the nation is today reputed as a regional hub for space activities in Africa in profound appreciation and recognition of its enviable track records in the field of space science and technology. The National Space Research and Development Agency which is a custodian of space activities in the country is not relenting in its efforts towards the full implementation of Nigeria Space Agenda in line with its mandates for the socio-economic development of our great nation and for the overall benefits of our people. Sustained research in space technology within the Agency has also led to so many spin-offs in medicine, agriculture, artificial intelligence, synthetic fiber, instrumentation, auto navigation and nano-technology. Apart from all these, the link of space technologies to the Nigerian economy can easily be seen in the ease of doing business since the growth in mobile communication and internet banking.
Satellite communication systems
Yes, it is true that satellite communication systems can help close the digital divide by possessing the key factors which are global, resilient and reliable. With just a personal computer and a multi-user satellite terminal, people anywhere on the planet can gain instant access to education, health care, banking and business which can be regarded as the essential building blocks of a sustainable society in today’s digital economy. It is also the believe of the United Nations that opening up access to the digital world through satellites communication system will give isolated communities many of the tools they require to grow and prosper. The reason being that satellite communication can play a very vital role in connecting remote and isolated communities around the world. Again, I will not forget to point out that it has huge potential to offer thereby promising high-capacity transmission capabilities over wide areas. On the other hand, It complements fibre broadband delivery in the sense that, it helps to access the internet with no geographical discrimination as it offers a simple yet robust and super-fast broadband connection anywhere.
It is part of our road map to design and launch satellites from Nigeria but certainly not this year. The critical laboratory, where this could be actualised, is still under construction, that is, the assembly, integration, texting and design centre. It is a major facility that will help us in facilitating this as well as paving the way for dramatic turnaround for industrial revolution in our land. The construction of the facility is on-going at the NASRDA’S headquarters in Abuja and it is our hope that money will be released for its completion as soon as possible. We have the required manpower on ground as the space agency has trained many Nigerians through its capacity building strategies in several areas of space science and technology at master’s degree and PhD levels. I can tell you that the space agency is today made up of a crop of intelligentsia, engineers and scientists who are poised for positive changes in our society through the applications of space science and technology. I’m yet to see an institution in Nigeria where we have highly skilled PhD holders like we currently have in the space agency.We have at the moment about two hundred PhDs from the best institutions across the globe. In addition to that, the Agency has just gotten approval from the Pan Africa University of Science and Technology to commence a Space Institute in science and engineering that will award master’s degrees and PhDs. This is another strong indication that the quantum of capacity development in the Space Agency will be effectively utilised for the intensive training of young engineers and scientists in the space agency. The genuine intension of the space agency to have its future satellites launched in Nigeria shall soon be realised as no stone is being left unturned to actualise this noble and historic objective. The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, is doing his best to give science and technology a pride of place and with a particular attention on the full realisation of Nigeria Space Agenda. In addition, the director-general of the space agency, Prof. Seidu Mohammed, is also doing his very best to consolidate the historic milestones of the agency in order to make it a pride to all not only in Nigeria but to the African continent and community of space practice across the globe.
Expectations from NASRDA
There are so many things in the pipeline as contained in our road maps in the space agency. When you talk of space science and technology, it is not just about launching satellites alone but there are several application areas that are of tremendous benefit to the people and growth of a nation like ours. All these areas are currently being explored for appreciable results and development in the areas of agriculture, education, healthcare delivery system, environment, water resources, and security, among others. In identifying with Nigeria, the international community has engaged with Nigeria in the design and manufacture of infrastructures in the country such as magnetometer, satellite laser ranging, super conducting gravimeter and recently the built of cubeSat in collaboration with Federal University of Technology, Akure. Again, I must emphasise that the availability of various satellite images at various scales ensures the understanding of phenomenon on the earth and the interaction between man and nature, that explains how well he is doing. The well laid human artifacts in Abuja and other state capitals and how they spread and increase in population can only be chronicled by the high resolution satellites that give inch by inch rendition of buildings, roads, spheres, pattern and trend of cities. Urban planning and conformity that depended so much on traditional methods are now heavily dependent on satellite images and analysis not only because they are faster and cheaper but because they serve as evidences and historic renditions. When comparing the outlook of Abuja in 1977 and 2017 for instance, it makes one wonder aloud how the massive infrastructure had developed from the agricultural fertile land. Among several other benefits, the impact of man on his environment can be better understood and properly documented through space applications.