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ANALYSIS… Why NASRDA’s cock and bull story on satellite facilities and insecurity cannot fly

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Following the spate of insecurity in the country, the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) on Wednesday, May 5, said inadequate satellite and other facilities was a challenge in monitoring the spate of insecurity in the country.

However, this claim seems to be different from the agency’s stand before the retirement of its former Director-General, Professor Seidu Mohammed, in June 2020 and the appointment of the new DG.

Speaking at a media parley in Abuja, the newly appointed DG of the Agency, Halilu Shaba, said the bandits now use sophisticated gadgets in their operations, including their mode of communication, noting that waves received by the agency showed the bandits no longer use mobile phones, but walkie-talkies.

According to the DG, the Satellites are not static at the centre point of the insurgency, saying that one satellite was not enough to monitor the region.

“What Nigeria has are two satellites doing two different things. We have a High-Resolution imaging satellite and Medium Resolution imaging satellite. The activities of the bandits could be when the satellite was away from Nigerian borders, so that is why we are advocating for more satellites for Nigeria,” he said.

The DG called for collaboration between NASRDA and security agencies in the country in the area of information sharing, especially when planning to launch attacks on the criminal elements.

However, findings by Ripples Nigeria show that Shaba’s claims contradict the data obtained from the agency, including a statement by the Head, of Media and Corporate Communications, of the agency, Felix Ale.

Nigeria’s space journey

Ale had in a statement in December 2020, obtained by Ripples Nigeria, confirmed that Nigeria has three functional satellites that are orbiting the earth, delivering important data and driving social-economic development across various sectors of the country’s economy.

But given the mandate to oversee space activities in Nigeria, NASRDA dominates satellite launches in Africa with ten satellite launches, space policies and operations among others, and operates through various sub-centres and laboratories around the country.

These centres include the Centre for Basic Space Science (CBSS), Centre for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD), Centre for Atmospheric Research (CAR), Centre for Space Science and Technology Education (CSSTE) also called the African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in English (ARCSSTEE), Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, and National Centre for Remote Sensing.

Meanwhile, the fundamental goal of Nigeria’s space programme is to sustain development and security, including disaster and environmental monitoring, scientific research, human capacity development and security intelligence.

NASRDA is the principal space intelligence team collaborating with both the Nigerian military and foreign military aid agencies working to eliminate Boko Haram insurgents in West Africa.

The agency had said it produced a 10-metre digital elevation simulation map and vegetation density map of Sambisa Forest, using NigeriaSat-X to assist the Nigerian military in combating the dreaded Boko Haram sect, who at some point, overran several towns in North-Eastern Nigeria.

In external military operations, NASRDA had claimed it produced data and satellite images of South-West Mali during the civil war between Southern and Northern Mali in 2012. The topographic map provided the West African peace-keeping soldiers with geographical knowledge of the crisis zone.

According to the agency, the satellite images contributed to successful military intervention in Mali. NASRDA also conducted image mapping and terrain analysis of the Dargol Area of Niger Republic, the scene of the 2013 Nigerian Air Force jet crash.

And, according to data obtained from NASRDA, the agency said it donated over 4000 satellite images estimated to be worth N3 billion ($8.3 million) to Nigerian universities and research institutions using NigeriaSat-1 alone. In all, NigeriaSat-1 directly contributed over N10.5 billion ($29 million) to Nigeria’s economy within its first nine years in orbit.

With the launch of NigeriaSat-2 and X in August 2011, NASRDA commenced the second phase of resource inventory mapping for the government, and completed a detailed resource inventory mapping in South-West and North-Central Nigeria excluding Benue State, at a scale of 1:50,000, which was estimated to be worth about N5 billion ($13.8 million) upon completion.

The other part of Nigeria’s earth observation satellite programme by the agency involved supporting universities and research institutions with free data for academic research. NASRDA was said to have donated about N4.5 billion ($12.4 million) worth of images from NigeriaSat-X to 35 Nigerian universities.

However, despite NASRDA’s listed achievements in other regions in Africa, going by the huge investments and budgetary allocations to ensure far-reaching and productive use of the satellites in national mapping, and surveillance in the troubled North-Eastern region, among others, Nigeria has continued to face high-security challenges and insurgency, as the agency has achieved noting against the insecurity in its own territory.

Budget allocation to NASRDA

A majority of Nigeria’s budget allocation for space goes to NASRDA. As of December 2019, President Buhari approved a budget for space that is nearly 20 per cent of the total budget for the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST).

Read also: ANALYSIS… Mass closure of Northern schools: Is the Boko Haram ideology winning?

In the 2020 budget, $59.26 million was allocated to space activities in Nigeria. NASRDA got $44.18 million, which was roughly 75 per cent of the total budget for space. NigComSat, the Nigerian state-owned satellite operator, was allocated $9.54 million, which was roughly 16 per cent of the released funds.

The Defense Space Administration, which focuses on military space applications, received 9 per cent of the total budget for space, totalling $5.48 million.

Amid the tough economic times, the Nigerian government revisited a 2014 report, which made multiple recommendations that were never enacted. Among these recommendations were transitioning NigComSat to a fully commercial venture, to suspend any further government funding.

Meanwhile, speaking on its achievements in 2020, Ale, said the agency instituted a Quick-Win Project grant, through which 25 Projects have been approved and funded, with a completion period of three to six months, noting that the projects were targeted at solving specific problems and producing products that can be commercialised.

He said: “Among the Quick-Win Projects completed by the agency include ‘GSM/GPRS+GPS SmartShoe, a smart emergency system footwear, embedded with a global tracking system to support security and health services, which combines the capabilities of Embedded Systems Technology, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) to provide global tracking of individuals whose whereabouts need to be determined.

“Also, the agency invented a Modular Satellite for Training (MOST), which replicates a satellite platform and was designed to function like a real satellite. It has some subsystems like a camera, solar array system, batteries, GPS, gyroscope, pressure sensor, temperature sensor, and a wireless transceiver and its solar array configuration has the ability to detect the movement of the sunrays.

“We also invented the N2 satellite platform using bio-waste/metal nanoparticles reinforced epoxy composites, which demonstrates the ability to prepare activated carbon from locally available groundnut shell bio-waste, synthesise and characterise metal nanoparticles from their relevant precursors to formulate hybrid positions for use in fabricating a replica of N2 satellite bus structure.”

The agency also said it embarked on a QuadCopter Swarm Project (QUSP) aimed at developing a Swarm of UAVs, also known as Quadcopters, to carry out autonomous surveillance over a given area.

This, NASRDA said would be achieved with minimal human interaction and would be conducted in a coordinated pattern, and would work collectively to achieve specific goals in areas of security, agriculture, and disaster management, among others.

The agency also embarked on the research of NASRDA HerdTrack, which aimed at developing a satellite-enabled tracking system for the prevention of cattle theft and installing LoRaWANIoT gateways to support remote monitoring.

As opposed to previous tracking solutions, NASRDA said the project will use both satellite and LoRa network to enable reliable monitoring from any location in Nigeria, while its expected benefits include improved national security by mitigating the herdsmen and farmers conflict.

Meanwhile, ongoing Quick-Win Projects, which were expected to be completed in 2020, including Security Surveillance System Using RFID and Image Processing Technologies, Design and Development of a Real-Time Control Centre for Space Exploration and Education, Design and Development of Satellite and RF Transmitter Tracking System Algorithm for Fixed and Mobile Station Receivers, N-Track (Nigeria-SAT Track), and Generic Satellite Power System Module among others.

The agency on December 3, 2020, during the Annual Media Conference, unveiled NigeriaEduSAT-2, a small satellite built by a Nigerian engineer/scientist in Nigeria with all the parts fabricated in the country, as a replacement for NigeriaEduSAT-1, launched in 2017.

Meanwhile, the agency disclosed plans to invest more in research and development in the area of building NigeriaSAT-3, which would replace NigeriaSAT-2 and a synthetic aperture radar satellite to complement the optical imager satellites this year 2021.

Although experts said Nigeria still faced the challenges of space policies, and funding for space projects, among others, and has noted that there was a need now than ever, for earth observation equipment because of the spate of insecurity in the country, it is important to note that it would be disastrous to commit more funds into NASRDA without getting tangible results from the huge investments made already to tackle insecurity in the country.

There is a need to strengthen aerial surveillance, satellite navigations systems, remote sensing, and low latency communication services among others, but there is also the need for accountability on the spending of the huge budgetary allocations to the agency.

By Victor Uzoho…

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