13 November 2008

Nigeria: Consultants Blame Power Outage for Nigcomsat Failure

Lagos — The Chinese company that designed Nigeria's communications satellite, NigComsat-1, has admitted that it veered off orbit as a result of power failure.

Ahmed Rufai, the Managing Director of NigComSat, a public-private partnership, told journalists on Thursday that the satellite was powered down after technical problems were identified.

He recounted how "we, in collaboration with our Chinese counterparts, identified some problems on Sunday and had to switch off the satellite to enable us to carry out fault analysis."

He said the satellite is fully insured.

But a report in The Times of Nigeria said the satellite failed due to power outage.

The Chinese company that helped launch it, The China Great Wall Industry Corp, also confirmed that NigComSat-1 failed to work because of electricity power exhaustion.

The firm, based in Beijing, attributed the power failure to a technical error in the satellite's solar wing.

Commercial communication satellites involve complex technologies and are regarded as highly risky projects globally, said an unnamed official of the company.

"But Chinese aerospace industry will be able to overcome the current difficulties and provide reliable communications satellites to international customers," he added.

NigComSat was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the south western Sichuan Province of China in May last year.

Back in Abuja on Thursday, the Action Congress (AC) urged the government to come clean on what really happened to the satellite.

A statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, said the official explanation that it is merely faulty and is being repaired in orbit, "where it is parked like a car," is totally unacceptable.

He added: "The government owes the people a more detailed and sensible explanation on how a satellite that cost N40 billion in taxpayers' funds and built to last 15 years can suddenly go bad, with non-functioning solar panels and all that, after just 18 months in orbit.

"For those who may not appreciate the huge cost of the satellite, N40 billion is about one-third of the $1 billion budget of a particular African nation for 2009!

"It is important to let the people know what really happened, after all the present administration of President Umaru Yar'Adua prides itself as an adherent of due process and the rule of law.

"For starters, did the award of the contract for the construction of the satellite follow due process? Was it awarded to a capable and proven manufacturer?

"Who certified the satellite fit for deployment in orbit? What happens to those who have transponders on the satellite? These are some of the questions that need answers urgently."

The AC criticised the government for hoarding information on the satellite, saying officials only grudgingly admitted that something is wrong with it after the media reported that it had gone missing.

"They now came out to say the satellite is not missing but is parked in orbit for repairs. Whatever play on language they are engaged in, one thing is certain: the satellite is out of action.

"We have had a reason to warn in the past that this administration should overhaul its information management process and try to be proactive. Now, we have seen again that the government has yet to heed this warning.

"It would have been better for the government to have immediately informed Nigerians after confirming that something had indeed gone wrong with the satellite, instead of waiting for the rumour mill to thrive before owning up, and even then failing to come clean.

"It is imperative to get to the root of the problems of NigComSat urgently because the country is in the process of launching a second satellite into orbit."

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