by Everest Amaefule, Abuja
Despite spending 40.12m pounds (about N9.94bn) to build two earth observations satellites in 2011, Nigeria has turned to Britain to get images from the satellites, launched into the orbit on August 17, 2011.
THE PUNCH authoritatively learnt that the ground station located in Abuja for the control of the satellites was not equipped with the laboratory to process images downloaded from the satellites.
A Presidency source, which expressed displeasure over the development, noted that provision was made for the laboratory in the original contract between Britain’s Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited and the Federal Government.
The source said that the office of the National Security Adviser had directed the National Space Research and Development Agency to produce an aerial map of Maiduguri and other volatile cities in the North as a means of monitoring terrorist activities in the area.
The maps were intended to help security agencies to identify possible operational bases used by terrorist groups to plan and launch attacks.
Further investigation revealed that the Director-General, NASRDA, Dr. Seidu Mohammed, had to resort to SSTL, the United Kingdom firm that constructed the nation’s three earth observation satellites, to get the maps when the agency could not produce the images.
At a press conference in Abuja on Friday, Mohammed had shown images captured by the satellites, processed in the UK instead of Abuja.
Many of the images which he displayed were on Maiduguri.
Although Mohammed failed to confirm the directive from the National Security Adviser, he disclosed that the images could be put to security use.
He also confirmed that the agency had been liaising with security officials on the use of the images.
When the procurement of the images from UK was queried by our correspondent, Mohammed said it was necessary to listen to professionals rather than those that were intent on “politicising space technologies in the country.”
The NASRDA boss disclosed that since the satellites were put in the orbit, they had been able to take about 145 images. Most of the images were on display by the agency on Friday.
Some of the images included the Three Arms Zone in Abuja, the Dubai Skyline, Mining Sites in Peru, the Salt Lake City Airport in the United States of America, as well as some sites in Abu Dhabi (UAE), Oklahoma and Los Angeles (USA).
The contract for the construction of NigeriaSat-2 was awarded to SSTL in 2006 at a cost of 34m pounds, while 18 per cent of the cost was spent on the insurance of the spacecrafts, bringing the cost to 40.12m pounds.
As part of the package, 26 Nigerian engineers were trained in the construction of satellite. Hands-on experience acquired from the construction was later put to use in the construction of the experimental satellite – the NigeriaSat-X.
Experts say potential areas of application of the two satellites include agriculture, forestry, land use and mapping, environmental and disaster monitoring, mitigation and management, geological mapping and transportation.
Others are hydrology and water resources, population and urban development, National Geospatial Data Infrastructure, as well as military, security and tourism applications.
NigeriaSat-2 is a high resolution satellite with a 2.5m panchromatic view, an improvement on NigeriaSat-1 launched in 2003 which has 32m panchromatic camera.
Our correspondent reports that the absence of a processing laboratory in the Abuja ground station seems to have given more powers of control to the company that built the satellites.
Consequently, the nation buys images from the UK after it had provided for it in the satellite contract.
It was further gathered that the authorities at NASRDA had requested for funding in the 2012 financial year in order to correct this anomaly.
It was learnt that the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, had asked NASRDA to produce images of Otukpo, his constituency in Benue State, after he heard of the scandal.
As at press time, Mark had not received any image from NASRDA.
But the NASRDA boss reaction to this was, “There is nothing happening in Otukpo that we are not aware of.”
When our correspondent called the Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President, Mr. Paul Mumeh, to confirm the directive from Mark, he said he would confirm from his boss and report his findings.
He was yet to do so as at press time. Subsequent calls to his mobile phone were not picked.
At the image exhibition in Abuja on Friday, Mohammed said the in-orbit commissioning of the satellites was completed in September 2011 in collaboration with SSTL, adding that operations had since been transferred to Abuja.
According to him, images downlinks to Abuja have been on since October 2o01, while the spacecrafts have been functioning optimally.
At the ceremony on Friday, 87 telescopes )named Galileoscrope) were presented by the agency to universities and secondary schools across the country to help them in the study of space sciences.
The beneficiaries included 72 public universities across the country; 10 best secondary schools determined by West African Examination Council and five best schools in the Federal Capital Territorya.
“These kits represent an important additional support to the educational activities in developing countries such as ours. It is expected that this act of distribution of the Galileoscope will empower astronomy education in Nigeria.”
Director of Research and Innovation at the National Universities Commission, Prof. Valentine Ekechukwu, who received the telescopes for the universities on behalf the NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Julius Okogie, expressed gratitude for the donation.
He said that NASRDA could work in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission for constituency delineation as well as with the National Population Commission for census purposes.
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