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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Nigeria adopts space policy
The Nigerian Government is about to enter the space age.

This is a serious project... with serious benefits for Nigerians

Turner Isoun, Science and Technology Minister
It has formally adopted a National Space Policy with the objective of launching its own satellite and space research programmes.

The new government initiative, which will cost about $2.5m a year, initially aims to launch communications and weather satellites.

There are hopes that the launch of dedicated satellites will greatly improve communication links - Nigeria has notoriously bad phone lines.

'Serious project'

The newly established National Space Research and Development Agency says that its communications satellites will also carry weather prediction equipment, and remote sensing technology that can scour isolated parts of the country for signs of fire or flood.

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Directing its operations will be a National Space Council chaired by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Our correspondent in Lagos said the high-profile membership of the council would ensure the initiative had maximum political clout.

"The investment involved may not be much by western standards, but it demonstrates the commitment of the Nigerian Government to mobilise available human and material resources in Nigeria to start off a space programme," Sola Odunfa said.

The government believes the new policy, together with recent initiatives on biotechnology and information technology, could help make Nigeria a global player in science and technology research.

"This is a serious project, we are planning, with serious benefits for Nigerians, in terms of science, weather plotting, agriculture and communications," Science and Technology Minister Turner Isoun was reported to say on Friday.

Future potential

Although eventually Nigeria plans to build its own rockets and satellites, analysts say the quickest route to space could well involve buying in technology from either Russia or China, who are both very keen to become involved in the project.

But Nigeria is ideally sited for a space port. Its position just north of the equator means any rocket can harness maximum benefit from the Earth's rotation, which helps catapult the vehicle into space, when it makes the leap into orbit.

However, Nigeria's neighbours could have something to say on the matter as rockets would cross their territories.

Less fuel should be needed, making the launch less expensive. It also means heavier satellites can be carried.

A couple of years ago, the worldwide satellite launch business broke through the $100bn mark. Some analysts think the world's appetite for more satellite television and bigger and better communications, based on the new mobile technologies and the internet, could make the sector worth tens of trillions of dollars by 2020.

It is for this reason that many countries want to get into the commercial launch business. India, for example, recently launched its new GSLV rocket, which is capable of placing satellites in geosynchronous (stationary) orbits.

The BBC's Sola Odunfa
"The council's membership is designed to give it maximum political clout"
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