NIGCOMSAT is alive again, and earning praises, writes Sonny Aragba-Akpore
After its first satellite christened, Nigcomsat 1 failed in orbit in 2008, the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) Limited suffered grave injuries as Nigerians and the global community spared nothing to criticize Nigeria’s, and indeed Africa’s attempts in space.
That experiment, by a young man, Ahmed Timasaniyu Rufai to take Nigeria to space was ambitious. How he managed it then remains a mystery.
He worked closely with his bosses at the Science and Technology Ministry on the project funded by China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) through China Export/Import Bank to actualise the project. Nigeria went to space to provide a communications satellite covering the whole of Africa and parts of Europe and Asia.
Beautiful as it was, it took just a few months before the satellite was de-orbited and not “failed“ due to solar array failure according to the management.
Before it’s launch, Nigeria had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with CGWIC to manage the satellite for two years before handing over to Nigeria to take over its management.
The cost of that satellite was pegged at $250million out of which Nigeria put in $50million as counterpart funding while the China EXIM paid $200million.
So when it failed a few months later under the Chinese management, Nigeria didn’t suffer any financial losses except for the loss of prestige.
And so on December 19, 2011, in Xichang, China, a replacement satellite named Nigcomsat 1R was launched with funfare. The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) beamed images of the launch on live broadcast.
Before the second launch, Ahmed-Rufai and his team didn’t take chances, especially when Nigerians cast aspersions on the company, raising doubts whether the first satellite was indeed launched before its failure. With NTA and a contingent of the Nigerian media at the launch site, doubts were reduced to a manageable extent.
NigComSat-1R was the fourth in-orbit delivery contract signed by China Space with its international customers. The launch was conducted according to the NigComSat-1R Contract signed by Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT LTD.) and China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
NigComSat-1R spacecraft is built on Dong Fang Hong 4 (DFH-4) satellite bus, developed by China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and launched by LM-3B launch vehicle, developed by China Academy of Launch Vehicle (CALT).
NIGCOMSAT said the China Satellite Launch Tracking and Control General (CLTC) provided tracking, control and ground segment support for the programme.
The NigComSat-1R was the eight satellite built on the DFH-4 bus for in-orbit delivery and the NigComSat-1R launch was the 18th flight of LM-3B launch vehicle and the 154th flight in the series of the Long March launchers. “The project was carried out in conjunction with over 50 Nigcomsat engineers who spent nearly 31 months in China.”
The satellite with service lifespan of over 15 years was designed to meet the needs of telecommunications, maritime, defence and broadcast media in Africa, particularly Nigeria and part of Europe and Asia. It has 28 active transponders, and quad band of Ku, ka, C-Band and L-band.
The two ground stations located in Abuja, and Kashi, China, owned by Nigcomsat, participated fully in the launch. A visibly excited managing director of Nigcomsat Limited, Timasaniyu Ahmed-Rufai, simply said, “This is mission fulfilled.”
Top government officials including then communications technology minister, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, her science and technology counterpart Prof Okon Ewa Bassey, chairman of Senate Committee on Communication Gilbert Nnaji, House of Representatives members, Nigcomsat 1R project director and executive director, marketing, Abimbola Alale, and chief executive of LASACO Insurance Plc, Mr. Sola Ladipo-Ajayi, witnessed the launch.
Speaking after the successful launch of the satellite, then Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, said ‘’Technology has become the vehicle for growth of every society, therefore it is important that Nigeria gets her own satellite.” That was on December19, 2011.
NIGCOMSAT 1R has run for eleven years. But this is not the story. After a series of management changes in the organization since 2014 and several pits and falls especially with undue government control that has had serious negative impacts on its operations, NIGCOMSAT is on the rise again.
Early this week, the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB) gave kudos to Nigeria NIGCOMSAT for quality delivery in satellite service. Incidentally it was the NTA which beamed the launch of 2011 that initiated this commendation. Its Director-General, Mr. Salihu Dembos, gave the commendation when he led a visiting delegation of the AUB on a facility tour to NigComSat in Abuja. “The reason why we choose NIGCOMSAT out of many is the fact that we are proud of NigComsat performance. We have migrated to NIGCOMSAT and I can attest and tell you without any doubt that the service rendered by NIGCOMSAT is one of the best since the history of NTA,” Salihu said.
” So for the delegation, this is an opportunity to interact with the management of NIGCOMSAT and leverage on the validity and availability of this satellite company in Nigeria which is the pride of Africa,” Dembos said.
He said the delegation of AUB were in Abuja for the 14th Ordinary Session of the General Assembly of the AUB with the theme, “The Impact and Challenges of African Broadcasting in the Digital Transformation of the World.”
AUB was formed on Oct. 30, 2006 during the 43rd and final session of the Union of National Radios and Televisions of Africa (URTNA)’s General Assembly in Abuja. The organization was transformed into a new Union called AUB, in French, Union Africaine de Radio diffusion (UAR).
The role of this leading African Broadcasting organization is to promote and empower the sons and daughters of the continent through quality Radio and TV programs.
Managing Director, NIGCOMSAT, Tukur Lawal, said there was a need to focus more on development in the digital space as well as to earn enough resources to sustain operations through the use of pictures and videos.
Lawal who was represented by NIGCOMSAT Executive Director of Administration, Hadi Mohammed, said the organisation had more than 50 Direct-To-Home channels on it (DTH) platform and delivers a wide range of media content to their customers’ homes. “Our platforms also provide free-to-air, free-to-view and Pay TV channels as well as video-on demand.
“We have two Direct-To-Home (DTH) licensees and about 29 Direct Satellite Broadcasting (DSB) licenses and jointly transmit channels over NIGCOMSAT-1R.
” We have contributions from Egypt, Kenya and we welcome same from other African countries on the NigComSat 18 satellite,” he said.
Lawal said it was an undeniable fact that the future belongs to broadcasting, adding that Africa must rise to the occasion and be counted amongst those that would benefit in this digital age.
While highlighting some of the achievements of NIGCOMSAT, he affirmed that the company had the capacity and resources to provide cutting-edge services across Africa and beyond.
The Group Head, Satellite Broadcasting and Broadband Company, Nnaemego Obior said NIGCOMSAT Satellite was particularly suited for broadcast service delivery which covers a wide geographical area. He also said it was the most cost-effective means of delivering broadcast signals to homes.
“We operate a Digital Head-End (DHE) platform for helping broadcasters, content producers, content aggregators, and Pay TV operators to reach millions in sub-Saharan Africa through communication satellite.
” NIGCOMSAT has invested in both ground and space segment to make this an affordable and end-to-end business solution for players in the broadcast industry.
“We also have resources and expertise to guide you in establishing your business ideas as the case may be,” he said.
Aragba-Akpore is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board