Sunday, November 16, 2008

A multi-million dollar Nigerian satellite launched in May 2007 has been shut down to prevent it spinning out of control and damaging others in orbit

Chinese-built NigComSat-1 cost the African oil producer $340m (£228m). The Nigerian government said insurance would pay for a replacement and Nigerians should still be proud of the country's satellite program. But telecoms experts said it was a "white elephant in space" and the whole operation was a "debacle". NigComSat-1 was launched 18 months ago to much fanfare from the government, but it has been mired in controversy ever since. Controllers have shut the satellite down because it was having problems with its power supply, the government announced. The satellite was meant to provide communications for government agencies and broadband Internet. "This has been a real debacle from day one," a telecoms engineer said. The satellite was limited because the type of frequency it used was disturbed by clouds in the atmosphere, and did not work properly in Nigeria's rainy season or during the Harmattan, when clouds of dust blow down from the Sahara. The satellite also operated on frequencies already allocated to other companies and interfered with other providers' equipment. Local media initially reported that the satellite had "gone missing". But then Minister of State for Science and Technology Alhassan Zaku told journalists it had lost power and had to be "parked, like you would park a car". "If it wasn't parked and it lost all its power there would be no energy to even move it and it would be like a loose cannon and would keep rolling about and hit other satellites in the orbit," he said. According to analysts, Nigeria has made nearly $2 trillion in oil revenues over the last 30 years, but its population are mostly poor. Africa's most populous nation lacks basic infrastructure like power and water, and many Nigerians thought the satellite showed the government did not have its priorities right. The news that the satellite could not get enough power to run has led to jokes that, as one e-mail doing the rounds put it: Nigeria has "exported its electricity generation problems to space".

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