Mohammed: NASRDA Not for Space Exploration Alone

Seidu Mohammed

The Director General, National Space Research and Development Agency, Professor Seidu Mohammed, in this interview counters the common belief that the brief of the agency is about space exploration alone. He lists an array of interventionist roles that the agency plays in the nation. Kayode Fasua brings the excerpts:

What have been the major achievements of National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in recent time?
The National Space Research and Development Agency has recorded remarkable achievements in fulfilling its mandates over the last three years. The achievements over the last three years include, among others, the magnetometer for prediction of geo-hazards. As part of the International Network for Magnetometer (INM), a magnetometer worth US$2.2 Million was donated to the Agency by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). The equipment has been installed and is functioning perfectly. The magnetometer is being used to generate data that would be useful for predicting tsunami, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other geo-hazards within the equatorial trough, and thus contribute positively to the enhancement of our research for national development.

Another one is crustal deformation monitoring in Nigeria. The Agency, through the Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, is collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on crustal deformation monitoring. Consequent upon the collaboration, NASA donated and installed GPS equipment to NASRDA, worth N5 million, to support crustal deformation monitoring and other critical research projects in Nigeria. Indeed, there are many achievements to list.

Have you had any major breakthrough in your Space Application Support for Sustainable Development?
Yes. Consequent upon the launch of the NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X satellites, the agency is implementing a number of satellite-based projects that are strategic to national development. Specifically, in the areas of boosting sustainable food production, resources inventory and management, and ecological and disaster management. The NigeriaSat-2 and Nigeria Sat–X images are currently being used locally and internationally for the development of land use/land cover map of Nigeria at a scale of 1: 50,000.

There is also the development of early warning systems for national food security, the development of detailed soil map/soil information system, the development of essential maps for national security, satellite images to support the Armed Forces and national security, especially for the Nigerian peace-keeping missions all over the world; as well as other localised activities. Flood disaster monitoring and management are not also exempted. Again, NARSDA has develop capacity to build, design and develop instrumentation for scientific research capable of being deployed in universities and other institutions which is in line with the agency mandate. It will save the nation foreign exchange that could have been spent importing these instruments.

We also have the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds (JGMNB) code-named, “BIRDS Project”. It is a multinational satellite project based on lean manufacturing process, where 15 students from Japan, Ghana, Mongolia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Thailand were enrolled at Graduate school of Engineering of Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech) through innovative system engineering of designing, manufacturing, integrating, and testing. Five CubeSat’s was thus launched in August 2016 to form a constellation. They are presently operated from seven ground stations across the world. The Nigerian CubeSat sings the national anthem when it passes over Nigeria.

Any recent contribution in the agric sector?
We have the automated irrigation system. This is an automated system that performs intelligent and independent irrigation tasks. It is smart enough to know when irrigation exercise is to be triggered and the scope or extent of irrigation required at any point in time, using electronic sensor array and timing chip. It can also be operated remotely, using a mobile phone to send SMS remotely to it to perform irrigation. It is a solar-powered facility that is changing the face of agricultural practices in Nigeria.

How about information technology?
A lot can be accounted for, in this regard. We have the high precision GPS device. This is a portable, four-dimension Global Positioning System (GPS). It is essential for those that need point location information in up to four dimensions. It is a rare instrument in that, it relays position information in up to eight precision digits. The software running the device is written to optimise the precision of the system to up to eight digits, thereby making it unique in position information accuracy. It relays information such as latitude, longitude, altitude and speed. It could be adapted on space systems for high precision coordinate information. It is equally an essential instrument for the military, as no country wants to commercialise such high precision military gadgets. Because it is intended for field works or on space systems, it is a handheld and rechargeable system, powered by Lipo cells, and having the capacity for long haul tasks.
There is also the 3–Axis Magnetometer. This is a versatile instrument that measures the earth’s magnetic field orientation in full X, Y, Z coordinates. It also automatically computes the Declination (D), Inclination (I) and Horizontal, for force, which are essential parameters in understanding earth’s orientation and magnetic coupling.

The Nigerian society, today, is replete with stories of disastrous environmental incidents. In which way is NASRDA lending a helping hand?

We have intervened quite remarkably. That’s why, for instance, we came up with the environmental monitor and gas pollution detector. This is a multifunctional and very durable device that combines the tasks of characterising the environment with gas pollution level’s monitoring. It prides on the best of digital sensors, to relay accurate information about its environment and it equally relays the level of gas pollution in such an environment. In coming up with the device, we took into consideration, the peculiarity of the Nigerian environment during design and hence it is suitable for operation at any part of the country. The design of this device is need-based and as such, an intended user is expected to specify before its production, the environmental variables of interest and particular gas pollution of interest such as CO, CO2, LPG, etc. It comes in different trims, such as standalone, solar-powered, and USB powered. Lest i forget too, we have the Range Finder. This is one unique instrument for digital measurement. It is ideal for field works, laboratory measurement, and tasks that require high-precision digital measurement. It is a portable, standalone wireless ultrasonic measuring device; that can carry out precise measurement tasks up to five metres range. It gives measurement readings in both meters and centimetres’ units. It is a handheld and rechargeable system powered by Lipo cells with a capacity for long duration measurement tasks.

Besides, we have come up with Infrared Temperature Meter. This is an Infrared thermometer. It is used to take temperature reading of any object – humans, animals, materials or specimens without and physical contact. It is a handheld and rechargeable system powered by Lipo cells with a capacity for long haul temperature measurement tasks. It is a useful tool for health care workers or in hospitals, laboratories etc for taking temperature readings without physical contact. Not done, NASRDA has what we call Environmental, Pollution and Soil monitoring (EPSm) Station. This is an advance automated weather and environmental station. The solar powered EPSm station is a one–stop device for wide scope of environmental characterisation. It is an environmental monitor that is highly integrated and boasts of about 13 real-time variables covering weather, environment, climate, atmospheric, soil, and gas pollution aerosol, etc-all in one compact outdoor unit. The advance features of the station include TFT LCD screens for visual display of real-time data and simulation results, on–board simulation of real-time data, SMS real time data/thresholds to registered phone numbers, location signature on data via GPS system; direct data push to a dedicated website for authorized public users, among other capabilities.
Variables being measured by the EPSm station include: ambient temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, atmospheric pressure, soil temperature, soil humidity, and so on.

How about personal security?
We have what we call Intrusion Detection and Alert System. This is a security system for intrusion detection and alert. It detects intrusion in an unauthorised place and sends intrusion alerts (SMS/Calls) wirelessly to relevant pre-programmed personnel mobile phone for immediate action. It is equipped with peripherals such as internal microphone for reaching back remotely to the environment. It uses a GSM SIM which makes it possible that only the provider/user of the SIM can operate the device. It is an essential instrument for crime deterrent. Beyond that, we have Electronic Calendar and Timing System. Basically, this is a table-top electronic calendar and timing system. It displays the Day, Month, Year, Hour, Minute, Seconds and Day of Week information on a digital display. In addition, it is customised to display owner’s/users’ information on the screen.
In advance usage, it is a user-programmable system that can be deployed for time automation-related tasks, by attaching a schedule or system to it. This is done by simply setting the date and time, for instance, that a system (or remote system) should be triggered. At the set day and time, this system would trigger the peripheral/remote system as programmed.

Any recent technological breakthrough?
Yes, there are many. But let me dwell on a recent one. This is called Robotics Development. Space science and technology involve advance instrumentation, large data handling and assistive technologies. This huge responsibility has propelled NASRDA CBSS to embark on Robotics Development and related assistive technologies. Astronomy, which is a major research focus at NASRDA CBSS, involves round-the-clock operations and thus robotics development and assistive technologies are crucial part of astronomy research and space exploration. In line with this, NASRDA CBSS has developed a Small Experimental Rover for Terrain Characterisation (SERT – X) equipped with an on–board Lab for real time/on–site modelling.
SERT-X is an autonomous ground vehicle that characterizes its immediate environment of deployment and relays results and modelled parameters via RF, to a remote server.