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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 07:15 GMT 08:15 UK
Disaster aid satellites launched
Three "cheap" disaster-monitoring satellites have been launched successfully from Plesetsk in northern Russia.

Nigeriasat, SSTL
NigeriaSat-1 was built in Guildford
Photo: SSTL
The lightweight spacecraft, belonging to organisations in Turkey, Nigeria and the UK took off on board a Kosmos rocket at 1012 local time (0612 GMT) after a 24-hour delay.

The Nigerian satellite - NigeriaSat-1 - is the country's first to go into orbit.

The craft will form part of a network called the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC), which will provide up-to-date information to relief agencies working on the ground.

They join an Algerian satellite that is already in space.

The DMC is run by organisations in seven countries: Algeria, China, Nigeria, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and the UK.

Its satellites have all been built by Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL), a spin-off from the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK.

They will help to summon rapid assistance in the event of droughts, earthquakes, fires, and man-made disasters.

The DMC can monitor any point on Earth at least once a day.

Affordable technology

The company's relatively cheap technology makes it possible for countries outside the traditional space powers to get a presence in orbit.

The firm says it can cut costs by a factor of 10 by using commercial, off-the-shelf components. Each DMC craft has cost less than $10m.

AlSat-1, the first satellite launched for Algeria, under manufacture at the Surrey Space Centre

SSTL has trained engineers from its customer countries to operate the satellites locally.

Once the spacecraft are fully operational later in the year, each nation will have its own resource for geographical mapping, while contributing 5% of satellite time free of charge for international disaster relief through the charity Reuters AlertNet.

Each satellite can map a 600-kilometre- (roughly 400-mile-) wide swathe of the Earth's surface at any given point in time.

The British contribution to the project is designed to ensure that 24-hour disaster relief and natural resource monitoring will be available.

The system will have the ability to send up-to-date mapping information to hand-held devices used by aid workers in the field.

Efficient approach

The DMC is a novel concept. It has, however, prompted some to ask whether relatively poor nations should be engaged in space activities.

But Stefan Barensky, a consultant on international space issues, says the activity is 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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