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China needs two years to replace NigComSat 1 Satellite

Posted by By O’seun Ogunseitan, Science & Technology Editor on 2008/11/24 | Views: 2597 |

China needs two years to replace NigComSat 1 Satellite

Federal Government officials meeting with a Chinese delegation this week on the failed Nigerian communication Satellite, NigComSat 1, will be told the earliest Nigeria can have a new presence in Space will be sometime in 2010.

Federal Government officials meeting with a Chinese delegation this week on the failed Nigerian communication Satellite, NigComSat 1, will be told the earliest Nigeria can have a new presence in Space will be sometime in 2010.
But Nigerian officials will also point out to the Chinese that operators at the Nigerian ground control station in Abuja could not be held liable for the damage of the N12 billion Satellite.

A formal handover of the troubled Satellite billed for last June, but postponed till June next year, may have become Nigeria’s saving grace in terms of culpability for the damage to the Space craft.The Nation has confirmed that control of the

Satellite was effectively in the hands of Chinese operators at both the Nigerian ground station in Abuja and in Shadar, China.

Chinese authorities were to have handed over NigComSat 1 to Nigeria last June, one year after they had helped launch the Satellite and kept it operational in orbit with an understudying team of Nigerian engineers. The handover was postponed till June next year partly to enable the Nigerian engineers a better mastery of the delicate science, but more importantly because " a minor problem" crippled one of the two arrays of solar panels that generate electricity which powers the Satellite about a few months to the initial handover date. The problem was to be fixed before the handover. Rather fortuitously, the failure of the only working power array two Sundays ago finally ended the life of the Satellite even before the handover, and effectively exonerating Nigeria from blame for the loss of the Satellite.

Feelers in Abuja, where the Chinese delegation is being rushed to by the Chinese government and the management of China’s Great Wall Industries, builders of the Satellite, indicated that the Chinese are more interested in what may have gone wrong and how to prevent it in the future than in apportioning blame. The suggestion was that the Chinese see Nigeria and the success of the Nigerian Space programme as of strategic importance to them as they strive to hold on to their current leadership of this "area of Space technology". The explanation was that China has quickly and quietly established itself in the news Space age, as offering the most cost-effective

Space launches. The country would not want the failure of the Nigerian Satellite to trigger a decline in its patronage by most developing countries seeking a space in Space. This year alone, the country has launched Satellites for Venezuela and Mexico, aside of several successful launches of supporting Chinese-owned Space craft.

The most probable first stop of the Chinese delegation may be the Nigerian National Assembly where it may brief members of its select committee on Tuesday on what they think happened and what they intend to do to bridge the gap. They will probably offer Nigerians the first bailout options since the crisis began two weeks ago.

The Managing Director of NigComSat Ltd., Mr. Ahmed El-Rufai, was at the Assembly last week to state what actually happened, as observed by the ground crew at the Abuja control station. El-Rufai, who allayed fears by foreign observers that Nigeria may have underinsured the downed Satellite, explained that what was seen in the international circuit as a shortfall in the insured value for the N40 billion project was the value of the project that was insured by local insurers. He told the National Assembly the project was fully insured, but by two insurers, one foreign and the other local.

The Chinese are likely to tell Nigeria that

•to reprogramme one of their Satellites already in Space for temporary use by Nigeria will take more than one year and to move such a Satellite to a spot in Space, where Nigeria will be the core of its showers, will take upwards of another six months; and that to

•remodel a satellite being built in China for another client to meet Nigeria’s needs may not see another Nigerian Satellite in Space until sometime in 2011 and that is even if they can convince the unnamed client to tarry awhile.

Industry watchers believe Nigeria should not lose the steam it has already generated with the launch and actual ownership of Africa’s first communication satellite. Whereas Nigeria may have to look elsewhere for a quick replacement of the lost Satellite, doing business with the Chinese may have become irresistible. A few months back, before the loss of NigComSat 1, the Chinese offered Nigeria another $500 million loan to build two other Satellites, even before it started repaying the $350 million loan for the downed NigComSat 1.

Experts are of the opinion that if Nigeria needs to go elsewhere, it should mitigate the effect of the loss and the attendant disappointment of clients who had lined up to get on NigComSat 1 by the end of this year. More on the Nigerian Satellite odyssey on Infotech Page 19.

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