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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Nigeria enters space age
Nigeria's long-awaited first satellite has been successfully launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

Satellites from Nigeria and the UK undergo testing (Photo: RAL)
For countries like Nigeria, space-based observation makes sense
A Kosmos-3M booster rocket took the satellite - one of six in total - into orbit at 0612 GMT on Saturday, after a 24-hour delay.

"The Nigerian delegation is very happy to see this event go on successfully. We've been waiting very anxiously," said Nigeria's Science and Technology Minister Turner Isoun.

Nigeria becomes the third African country to have a presence in space, after South Africa and Algeria.

Although Russian engineers managed the launch, the satellite's ground control station will be in the Nigerian capital Abuja and staffed by 15 Nigerian scientists.

Disaster warnings

The NigeriaSat-1 is Nigeria's contribution to a network called the Disaster Monitoring Constellation.

Each satellite belongs to one country, but they will share information with each other when disaster monitoring is needed. For the rest of the time, each nation can use its satellite as it wishes.

Either you decide to place people everywhere to monitor [Nigeria] on the ground, or you launch one satellite
Space consultant Stefan Barensky

A prestigious project for President Olusegun Obasanjo which has been greeted with much excitement by the local media, the satellite has nevertheless provoked controversy.

Commentators have argued that a country where more than 80 million out of 126 million citizens live in abject poverty ought not to be spending its limited resources on a space programme.

'Economic sense'

But other observers say that for large countries such as Nigeria, space-based observation can make economic sense, as monitoring things like deforestation and water resources from the ground can be very laborious.

"If you have a volcanic eruption that is going to take place, a satellite can tell you in advance that this volcanic eruption is coming," says former Nigerian presidential adviser on space Dr Ade Abiodun.

You start small - you learn from that experience - and from that you gain a lot of capability
Dr Ade Abiodun

"And therefore the decision-makers now have adequate information to warn the populace to move away."

Dr Abiodun says Nigeria may eventually start building its own satellites.

The Disaster Monitoring Constellation satellites, which cost less than $10m each, have been built by a British-based company, Surrey Satellite Technology.

"You start small - you learn from that experience - and from that you gain a lot of capability," he said.

Stefan Barensky, a consultant on international space issues, agrees that satellites can be an efficient use of public money.

"Nigeria is a very big country with an important agriculture, with important resources, and a fast-growing population, so if you're the government, the Nigerian Government, you have to manage all this," he says.

"And either you decide to place people everywhere to monitor this on the ground, or you launch one satellite."

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