Friday, 29 September 2017

Hidden Facts About Nigeria's Satellites - NigComSat

Since 2007, NigComSat have become a familiar word among Nigeria's technology You need to understand a bit of what this is all about, whether you are tech-savvy or not, whether you are a Nigerian or not.

Figure 1: Nigeria's Billion Dollar Satelites
I took time to gather this relevant information and I have presented it in a simple terms(no much technical jargon) to allow all my readers to understand. Especially for Nigerians, after reading, you will understand why some say the country still have a long way to go.

We are going to cover the following sub-topics in this article:
1. What is NigComSat
2. NigComSat-1 and NigComSat-1R
3. Any Benefits from these Satellites?
4. Final Thoughts and Questions Arising

1. What is NigComSat?
NigComSat is short for Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited. The company is described as "a company under the Federal Ministry of Communication". The company was incorporated in 2006 during the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo. The company had the mission to manage Nigeria's Communication Satelite and provide economic benefits of such to the country.
However, prior to the incorporation of this company, and initial contract to build a satellite has earlier been signed with a Chinese firm(between Nigeria's Ministry of Communication and a State-owned Chinese firm called CALT)

2. NigComSat-1 and NigComSat -1R
The Satellite being built by the Chinese firm was designated NigComSat-1. Remember that there has been prior three Satellites launched by Nigeria: NigeriaSat-1, NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X (we would talk about this on a later article).
The satellite was finally completed in China, and launched from China in May 13, 2007. It was build to have a lifespan of 15 years.  This Satellite failed after about 17 months.

Reasons Why  it Failed
In simple terms, we can say that the power supply failed, so the Satellite could not receive power and so all the modules started failing until it could no longer be tracked. The technical explanation is that there was some problem with the solar arrays that supply power to the satellite. Recall that Satellites are powered by series of solar panels which in turn charge up power storage units within the Satellite. For NigComSat-1, these solar panels either malfunctioned or stopped working. The last contact with the Satellite was on November 11, 2008.

The Launch of NigComSat-1R
NigComSate-1R was lunched in December 19, 2011 as a replacement for the NigComSat-1. The contract for this second Satellite was given to the same Chinese firm that lunched the failed one. This contract was signed, about 5 months after the failure of the first one.

Any Benefits From These Satellites?
Let's take a look at the initial reasons why the satellite was launched. One of the reasons is to improve Nigeria Telecommunication and ICT Sector. Over the years, Nigerian firms, both government and private have always subscribe for data and other related services via external(non-state owned) satellites. This was expected to change with the launch of NigComSat. Additionally, cost of Internet services was expected to drop to the barest minimum. So have these benefits been acheived?. I think you know the answer.

Final Thoughts and Questions Arising?
 Since over six years of launch of Nigeria's NigComSat, we are yet to see any tangible benefits. Additionally, the cost of running these satellite remains immense as we are going to examine in another article.
So the question is, what is the track record of this Chinese firm that launched a failed satellite? How long have they been in the business of building satellites? Why were they given the contract again knowing that they have failed in the first one? Why do we continue to spend to maintain a satellite when there is no corresponding benefits to the citizenry? These are some of the question that begs for answers.