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Nigerian Satellite Begins Fall to Earth

Posted by VOA on 2008/11/16 | Views: 3671 |

Nigerian Satellite Begins Fall to Earth


Nigeria's multi-billion naira communications satellite is spinning out of control just 18 months after its launch and has commenced its descent to earth, the Voice of America reported last night.

Nigeria's multi-billion naira communications satellite is spinning out of control just 18 months after its launch and has commenced its descent to earth, the Voice of America reported last night.

The Chinese built Nigerian Communication Satellite 1 (NigComSat) which was built at the cost of N40 billion, was expected to provide broadband Internet and communications services for government agencies and the private sector.

But the management of NigComSat had allayed fears early in the week over the satellite saying the situation is under control and that it was only experiencing power problems which had developed from a faulty solar panel.

But critics have called the device a white elephant project that was hurriedly executed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo .

The VOA quotes Paul Ceruzzi who is curator of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as saying "(The) satellite, once it is placed in orbit, has to be managed so that it points in the right direction, just like driving a car down the road.

"The antennas have to point to the ground, the solar panels have to point to the sun and they (must) have fuel on board (that) powers tiny rockets that do that or other means of stabilizing it.

"But sometimes they run out of fuel or the Sat system breaks down. Then it stays there in orbit and begins to tumble, if it loses contact with the solar panels or (they are) no longer pointing at the sun, then it losses electrical power.

"If the antennas are no longer pointing at the ground, then there is no way to communicate with it. So it becomes some kind of dangerous piece of junk flying at 17,000 miles an hour; it can be a serious problem."

Ceruzzi said it is unusual for new satellites to fail. "In the early days of the space programme things like that happened a lot.

"But over the years they have gotten more reliable. But it does happen. It has happened from time to time and the other issue of course is that all satellites, eventually run out of fuel and they potentially can have the same fate unless people do things to actively manage them for that day. But for something to fail so soon after launch is rare today but it does happen."

Ceruzzi said it is difficult to have an advance warning of the precise location where a satellite might come down.

Scientists may have such a warning "only in the few hours or so before it actually comes down. It could stay up there for months or years even and then atmospheric drag will slowly bring it out of orbit. And then, only at the very last moment, do you really know where it is going to hit."

THISDAY, last Wednesday reported that the satellite was missing from orbit and that activities manned by the satellite would grind to a halt.

Concerns have also been raised that the huge amount spent by the Nigerian government might be lost except the technical problem, which is believed to be significant, is resolved.

The satellite was said to have started experiencing technical hitches for a while prior to this latest displacement largely due to the fact that it was said to be using a technological standard not meant for Africa but for Asia.

The contract for the NigComSat project was signed on December 15, 2004 in Abuja between China Great Wall Industry Corporation and the National Space Research and Development Agency and was said to have cost the Federal Government over N40 billion. China was awarded the deal after it outbid 21 other international rivals.

The satellite fiasco has made Nigeria the butt of jokes with the BBC in a report on its website describing the operation of the satellite as a debacle and a white elephant in space.

The issue is said to have made the country, currently battling with infrastructure problems such as power, a laughing stock, with emails saying Nigeria has "exported its electricity generation problems to space" being circulated.

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