- Africa's and Nigeria's first geosynchronous communication satellite NigComSat-1 may have been lost for ever, although operators hold it only suffers from a flat battery, which can be fixed. The Chinese-build satellite had cost at least US$ 340 million.
Nigeria's most read newspapers 'Thisday' and 'The Punch' yesterday spelt crisis for the nation's ambitious space project when they announced that NigComSat-1 probably was "lost in space." 'The Punch' quoted "industry sources" saying "the satellite could not be found in its launch position in orbit some 37,000 kilometres above the earth."
NigComSat-1 was only launched in May 2007, presented as a great step in Africa's conquest of space and new technologies. The satellite was built by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation, and cost estimates vary from US$ 340 to 450 million. While being Nigeria's third satellite, it was the first to have been successfully placed into a geosynchronous orbit.
The news of possible loss of the satellite went un-denied for around 24 hours, indicating that operators at NigComSat and the Ministry of Science and Technology were indeed unsure about the satellite's whereabouts. Today, the country's main opposition party, Action Congress (AC), urged federal government to "come clean" on the satellite's faith, recalling the project's great costs.
This afternoon, however, both the operator and the responsible Ministry moved to tranquilise the public. Deputy Technology Minister Alhassan Zaku told the press that the satellite was not missing. NigComSat-1 only was suffering from a flat battery, which needed to be recharged. Engineers at NigComSat had so far not been successful in rectifying the problem, Mr Zaku said.
According to the official explanation, NigComSat-1 experienced problems on early Tuesday, connected to its power supply. Deputy Minister Zaku says that a temporary solution had been found, to make sure the satellite is not lost. Engineers had opted for "parking the satellite to conserve its energy and avoid a collision with other satellites in the orbit," he said.
The Deputy Minister also made sure to counter fears of the many companies having invested in the satellite and using its services. For the moment, these companies had been migrated to another satellite. "Of course they are not going to pay anything," he added.
Officials expect that chances are good to have NigComSat-1 within short. However, Deputy Minister Zaku admits that it may well be that efforts to repair it will fail. In that case, he holds, the satellite is properly insured. Te insurance company would be obliged to replace the satellite with another one.
The opposition, however, is not satisfied by government assurances. "The government owes the people a more detailed and sensible explanation on how a satellite that cost 40 billion naira in taxpayers' funds and built to last 15 years can suddenly go bad, with non-functioning solar panels and all that, after just 18 months in orbit," AC spokesman Lai Mohammed said in a statement today.
NigComSat-1 was launched as a backbone in Nigeria's telecommunication industry. It is also used within the business sectors of broadcasting, Internet, real-time monitoring services and navigation and Global Positioning System. Critical voices however claim the satellite did not live up to expectation even when functional, being too sensible to weather fluctuations.
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