Race to space: Nigeria launches homemade rockets

The long term importance of satellites in our lives cannot be downplayed, the benefits of space activities are directly attributable to both investment as well as continued research and development.

Regarding Nigeria’s entrance into space activities, the little-known Centre For Space Transport And Propulsion (CSTP), a technical arm of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) has developed and launched three rockets over the past nine months.

CSTP’s software platforms for analysis, evaluation, prediction and estimation of various datasets for optimization of the rocket structure, SMR and rocket test flights.

Since the Soviet Sputnik 1 entered orbit in 1957 to perform Ionospheric experiments, every nation has been scurrying to have a presence in space, Nigeria inclusive.

The story of Nigeria’s venture into space began in 2003 when its first satellite, NigeriaSat-1 was built by UK-based Surrey Space Technology (SST) and launched into space on a Russian spaceport. NigeriaSat-1 costs the Nigerian government about $13 million USD.

Nigeria’s space ambition

However, Nigeria’s space goals are quite lofty, they include the ability to locally design and build a satellite by 2018. By 2030, launch a satellite, next is to put a man on the moon.

For those goals to succeed, Nigeria’s 28-year strategic roadmap for space is to develop fully functional propulsion systems and sounding rockets.

Although, not much is known about the status of this strategic goals, however, official document obtained by Space in Africa, a Nigerian-based space monitoring firm, reveals that CSTP has carried out three successful rocket test flights this year. CSTP_TL_1 launched on the 24 April 2019, CSTP_TL_2 and CSTP_TL_3 were launched on the same day, 25 June 2019.

CSTP has previously carried out over 30 experimental rocket launches before 2019 with record altitude below 10km. More recently, CSTP had designed a new nozzle and integrated it with a bulkhead and chamber for Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) application.

Scepticism and funding constraints impede space progress

20 years have passed since Nigeria established NASDRA in 1999, but today, the space institutions is struggling to meet the objectives set out in a 2002 28-year roadmap amid widespread scepticism and constrained funding.

However, CSTP officials believes they can still achieve the strategic goal if the government prioritizes funding for the project.

Rocket launch sequence (CSTP)

Due to scepticism about Nigeria’s space ambitions, local support and investment in space-related activities is almost nonexistent. For instance, there is only one university in Nigeria, the University of Nigeria, in Nsukka, which teaches astrophysics. 

Beyond Nigeria, the advancement of a country in space provides a  wide range of  benefits relevant to national security, urban planning, food management and security, communication, agricultural management, disaster management and primarily nation building. 

Harnessing space potentials

In May 2018, NASDRA claimed that its constellation of satellites could be the hub for out-of-space monitoring and tracking of aviation globally. The agency believes that it has the capability to locate any airborne plane within and outside Nigeria.

NigeriaSat-X a Nano satellite weighing less than 500kg (1,102 pounds) was fully designed and constructed locally could have easily been used to locate the Malaysian airplane which went missing enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014 with 239 people on board.

On harnessing the military potentials satellites can offer, the Nigerian Military recently commissioned the Defence Space Administration Office Complex and the Defence Cyber Operations Centre, at Obasanjo Space Centre in Abuja.

Ekene Lionel

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