Nigeria’s space programme now of global reckoning – Shaba

Dr Halilu Ahmad Shaba was born on October 1, 1966. He began his basic education from Capital School in Sokoto and rounded off his primary education in Kaduna. He attended Rimi College, Kaduna and Government Secondary School Bindor. He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from Bayero University Kano in 1988. He has worked with the national population commission. He further obtained his master’s degree in technology and remote sensing application in 1993 and a PhD in the same field all from the Federal University of technology Minna. He transferred his service from National Population Commission and later joined the National Emergency Agency in 2006. He joined the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in 2009. He is a member of Academy of Science, Nigeria Geography Association, Association of Nigerian Authors and a Fellow of Nigeria Cardiographic Association. Shaba has written two novels -Darkness of Doom and Baboon Dreams. He has supervised over 40 masters and post graduate diploma courses and about 30 undergraduate researches. He has co-supervised  over seven PhDs in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and Ghana. He has written and co-authored about 35 journals, conferences, and articles. He is still lecturing, farming and a scholar. He was appointed director general of NASRDA on April 30, 2021.

22 years down the line, let’s look at telescope, looking at the Nigeria space technology, where are we today?

Since the establishment of National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), the space agency produced the first satellite in 2003, which is Nig sat 1. Nig sat 1 was our first experience, where we were looking at the heritage to build others. In 2003 the first satellite we built only had one camera on its platform while the payload is 32 metres resolution. The 32 meters resolution is a medium resolution satellite. Going on from there, in 2011 we built the second satellite, which is Nig sat 2. Before then in 2007 was the communication satellite and then also we established the Nicomsat, the communication satellite company. In 2011, based on the experience we had, we did so many things differently and you could see the advancement and experience. We built that satellite with 32 meters resolution so that scientists will continue their research along the line of 32 meters resolution which was started in 2003. And then we added on that platform a payload camera which is 2.5 meters resolution, which is a high resolution imager; and we also have a 5 meters resolution and Nigeria did not stop on that because there are alot of countries going about developing their satellite programmes. It’s either you are buying a satellite or you are starting from the scratch to build the satellite. Nigeria looking at it that we don’t have all the time and we want to make sure that at least we are going with other nations in terns of development instead of giving by this two  – either buying the satellite or starting from the scratch – because starting from the scratch will take a long time. And then buying your satellite will deny your engineers the experience and knowledge of how to build satellites. We now try to obtain the two in the sense that we put our engineers in the first satellite we purchased, we put our engineers to be part of the building of that satellite and they were part of the design, the building and testing of the satellite, which gave us heritage knowledge and experience of building satellites. When we were building the second satellite we did the same thing. We put 40 engineers on it and they were part of building that satelite. We did not stop there. We felt if these engineers were part of building Nig sat 1, Nig sat 2, and Nicomsat 1 which was built in 2007, they should also have their stake in building the satellite. And now they built under the supervision of our partner the satellite which we call Nigeria sat S. If you look at the name, we have Nig sat 1, Nig sat 2, we want to build Nig sat 3, sat 4, sat 5, you will see that this one does not go with the same nomeclature. We call it Nig sat S, which is an experimental satellite.

What is the difference with the Nig sat S, because I know it was launched last year?

Nig sat S is an experimental satellite fully built by Nigeria under the supervision of our partners. And then when it was fully built by Nigeria that shows that Nigeria has the heritage in building its own satellite, so we built that satellite ourselves. The initial thought was we were going to build the satellite but since it met all the space specifications -Nigeria is not too rich a country that we will build a satellite and put in a museum – and now we said okay let’s do one again. Let’s test it if we say it was built to flight standard. We tested it and it was built to flight standard. We put it in orbit and if it is put in orbit and is still operational and I can tell you that it came with a payload camera which is 22 meters resolutions and that was the first time in the world that you are putting a satellite of 22 meters resolution and our engineers decided that let’s try it and we tried it and if we had built and put it in the museum it’s not serving anybody. If we put it in the museum and it was not tested you cannot say that our engineers have a perfect built. And now we have tested in the space and we can say it is perfectly working and I tell you it is mostly used. The Nig sat S, due to the knowledge of the scientists who were using the satellite data, is better than the medium resolution which is 32 meters resolution

Just for clarity sake. Has it been launched?

It was launched together in 2011. For the first time Nigeria launched 2 satellites at the same time. The satellite you mentioned earlier on which was launched last year or thereabout was the Edu Satellite. We put somebody to work in the university because at times you can go back to the university and fetch some experience. We work in the Federal University Akure and another university because it is supposed to be university to university relationship. We put an engineer on it and then we built the Edu Satellite which was between China, Ghana and Nigeria and the three Edu satellites were launched at the same time. If you look at it the world is going measurising and is becoming a bit lighter. So in the instance that we don’t have the money to build the mega satellite we can put edu satellite for operational purpose for specific reason. For example, you have something you want to look at in 2 to 3 years you can put a small satellite there just for this period. Protect or a specific purpose vehicle so that Nigeria can leverage on it.

You call it Edu sat, can you tell us which institutions have been benefiting from it?

The Federal University Akure has benefited from that because we have human development in it and then
also we have the knowledge of ground receiving station that is built with the students so they are benefiting from it. If you recall the one built by Ghana was also by the university and the university in Japan, they also all benefited from it. What Europe is doing is trying to bring most universities together giving them their assignment and then they now design, build and then try to launch the satellite like when we learnt that India was able to launch about 143 satellites or thereabout. If you look at it they are the small satellites that will serve the nation
What area specifically is Nigeria benefiting?

The first thing we talked about is knowledge and the heritage of saying that we already have this knowledge and we are building on it because the program normally was formed by the university in Japan. And we now say okay and I can tell you that anytime we want to build the Annur satalite will be on the go. We can easily roll out satellite because of that experience.

I know the atmospheric research is a centre under the agency that is focused on development in research. if we are looking at building capacity in terms of infrastructure of capabilities of what we can do when we are looking at space technology, what about the scientists, human capital development also because it is a two way to improve? The infrastructure ability and also things of human capital development; how do you marry the two ensuring there is a balance on what is being done?

If you look at it like the center of atmospheric research it is basically more of a scientist research and then we have a lot of capacity building ongoing. We have related with so many universities. Even now we have somebody who came from Ethiopia and someone who came from Kenya just left last month. We have people who are coming in because of the viability the centre is known mostly research based. We also have facility like Nicap that is trying to look at the weather the way      weather perimeters. 

There is 54 percent increase compared to last year, if you are not going to rely basically on budget, why are you not looking at other aspects to generate this fund?

You see, people look at the figures, what goes into national space research. Space research is still working on infrastructure. If you come at the space agency and look at our arena, we need more laboratory, this is where researches wii be carried out. Put money in research. If you remove the infrastructure money you will see that the money given to research is too meagre. Engineering does not come cheap, it doesn’t come easy. Research doesn’t yield results early. You don’t carry out research easily. Lacking in laboratory is one big issue, then lacking in the equipment in this laboratory is another issue. I can give you an instance with AITDC. The project is not small project that that requires small money. Now again we have AI TDC which has been there for over 10 years. We are trying to develop our assembly integration testing for last year and if we go by what the president has directed that no project should be left uncompleted and we have this project and what is the project looking for, it is looking for billions and billions of naira. People see the billions but the don’t see the infrastructure. If you have the AITDC, it is supposed to standardise all the engineering manufacturing output and it is only when they are standardised that you can enter into foreign markets. We have engineers in Nigeria that will use this facility which is not the facility for the space agency alone. The design centre is fully completed.
(Culled from the Nigerian Television Authority).