The emergence of a Nigerian as regional winner in the poster category for the DStv Eutelsat satellite competition, underscores Nigerian’s desire for satellite technology, writes Emma Okonji

For six years running, Eutelsat and MultiChoice Africa have been championing the DStv Eutelsat Star Awards across Africa, which seeks to create awareness and interest among African students in the areas of science and satellite technology.

Although it has been an annual competition among students within the age bracket of 14 and 19 years, Nigerian students have always entered for the competition, but have never won, until the 6th edition in 2016, when Emmanuel Ochenjele, from CDM Academy, Gboko, Benue State, emerged the overall winner at the regional level in the poster category of the awards.

Students from other African countries won in the essay competition as well as runner-ups in both essay and poster categories. The winners were announced in Lagos, Nigeria in the presence of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Communications, Mr. Sunny Echono, who represented the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu.

Nigeria did not only win at the regional level for the first time in six years since the competition started, the announcement of winners was also done in Nigeria for the first time.
Pleased with Emmanuel Ochenjele for making Nigeria proud, Echono commended students, who submitted entries in both categories from over 200 schools across Nigeria, for their interests in satellite technology.

According to him, the competition has succeeded in stimulating the interests of Nigerians and other African students in the areas of sciences and satellite technology, which he said remained relevant in today’s new technological age.
Echono commended Eutelsat and MultiChoice for the initiate and urged Nigerian students to be challenged by the competition and go all out to win at the regional and national levels of the satellite technology competition.

How winners emerged

According to the organisers of the competition, it is an annual event designed to stimulate the interests of young students in the areas of science and satellite technology. For last year’s competition, over 200 schools across Nigeria sent in entries, that were adjudged by local jury drawn from professional bodies, academia and the media, who are science and technology inclined.

The students were asked to imagine themselves as satellite engineers and to design a satellite, stating its functions and abilities to address African challenges in the new age of technology.
Entries received were adjudged by the selected local jury and students from Zamani College in Kaduna and CDM Academy, Gboko, Benue State, emerged winners. The winning entries were later subjected to another round of competition at the regional level, which comprises winners and runner-ups from various Africa countries.

In Nigeria, Zumia Abdulkari, from Zamani College, Kaduna, emerged as the runner-up for the poster category, while two other students from Zamani College, Kaduna, emerged winner and runner up in the essay category of the competition.

At the regional competition, Ochenjele, from CDM Academy, Gboko, Benue State, who also won at the local level, emerged the overall winner in the poster category, while Aobakwe Letamo from Botswana was the runner-up in the same category.
For the essay competition, Leoul Mesfin from Ethiopia won, while Davids Bwana from Tanzania, was the runner-up in the same category.

Announcing the winners in Nigeria last week, the organisers said in the essay category, Leoul Mesfin from Ethiopia, impressed the judges as the entry considered continental and country specific needs and closely aligns to the topic.
Ochenjele from Nigeria was selected at the regional level, for his depiction of diverse satellites all contributing towards the advancement of solutions to challenges such as global warming, conservation of biodiversity, as well as stable energy supply.

The prizes

As part of the winning prizes, Mesfin will join a trip to Paris and onwards to a launch site to witness a rocket blast into space to place a satellite into orbit. The runner-up, Bwana from Tanzania will join a trip for two to visit MultiChoice facilities and the South African National Space Agency near Johannesburg.
Ochenjele will visit Eutelsat in Paris to understand how satellites are operated as well as a satellite factory. Letamo from Botswana will also have an opportunity to visit satellite launch. The four winning schools attended by the overall award winners and runners-up were also rewarded with a DStv installation, including dish, TV set, PVR decoder and free access to the DStv Education Bouquet.

The Jury

Europe’s leading female astronaut and now Special Advisor to the Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), Claudie Haigneré, chaired the jury of the awards for the first time at the regional level.

According to her, “Taking part in the DStv Eutelsat Star Awards for the first time has been quite simply a mind-changing experience, especially as the sixth edition topic was particularly challenging. The visionary ideas on Africa’s future satellite landscape developed in essays and posters underscore how Africa’s youth expect technology to drive positive change for their continent. The Jury engaged in intense discussions to award the most realistic and creative proposals that deserve to stand out on the African stage. Our congratulations go to all the finalists for their work and to the winners for their brilliant ideas.”

Other judges included, CEO at Innovative Technology Literacy Services Ltd, Ronke Bello, (Nigeria); Elizabeth Ohene, journalist and former Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (Ghana) Prof. Stephen Simukanga; Former University of Zambia Chancellor and now Director General of the Higher Education Authority, Jenerali Ulimwengu, and well known writer, columnist and lawyer from Tanzania.

Determining winning factors

According to Haigneré, all members of the jury looked at in-depth innovation and the fresh value that their satellite in discussion could add to satellite design and functionality. All members of the jury had to agree on the best performance, even though it was quite tasking to come to a consensus. When the winning poster was eventually selected, we did not know it was from Nigeria, until after the final selection. We were thorough in our judgement based on the criteria for selection, which cuts across innovativeness, creativity, knowledge about satellite technology, accuracy, and referencing.

Haigneré said Africans should be keen in designing and building their own satellite and that awareness creation like the satellite competition, could help achieve the goal.
“In the next five years, we want to see Africans who have desire and the technical skills to design and build satellite for Africa. Africans need to develop the confidence and skills to develop satellite and we are ready to support the initiative”, Haigneré added.

Discussing the criteria for selection, Director, Corporate Communications Eutelsat Violaine du Boucher, said although there were criteria for selection, but those who made it to the top five, where those that had their research beyond Google search. What most of them did was to go to Google to copy the functions of a satellite. But we were looking beyond that. As judges, we were looking the new things that satellite could do for communities in the new age of digital technology. The students that won, went beyond Google and looked at what their satellite could do to help communities in addressing their needs, and they were able to identify those needs, as they relate to new age digital technology. Some of them looked at what scientist are currently working on for future satellite and those are some of the criteria that we used in judging them and in selecting winners.

Satellite cost

According to Boucher, a standard satellite cost between $450 million and $500 million, with a lifespan of between 15 and 20 years.
Satellite comes with insurance cover and insurance companies are liable to pay for damages, if within 10 mins of launch, the satellite develops fault, and insurance company can pay for damages as mush as $500 million, and the failure rate is minimal, Boucher said.

Why satellites fail

Using the failed NigComSat 1, the Nigerian geostationary satellite that was de-orbited in 2008 for technical reasons, after it was successfully launched in 2007 from China, Boucher said several factors could be responsible for failed satellites, after successfully launched into space.

“I do not know what exactly happened to NigComSat 1 because it was not launched by my company Eutelsat. It was built by a Chinese company and launched from China. It could be possible that some technical faults occurred as a result of lack of satellite experience by the builders. Satellite launched from European airspace have had high success rate of launch,” Boucher said.
According to him, several factors could also be responsible for malfunctioning of satellite.

It could be that the satellite does not have enough capacity to monitor what it is supposed to monitor. So after the successful, launch it can only give results based on the capacity it has. Financial constraints could make a satellite builder to provide limited capacities for the satellite. After its successful launch, the satellite will not be able to monitor as much areas it is supposed to monitor, based on its limited capacities.
Both Haigneré and Boucher were of the opinion that the DStv Eutelsat satellite competition would create necessary awareness that would motivate interest in satellite technology among African students.