Nigcomsat Lost Forever, says company MD, but needs to be replaced by two more satellites costing US$500m


It has now been confirmed that the disintegrating N29.95 billion ($256 million) NigComSat-1 flown into orbit about a year ago by China Great Wall Industry Incorporation (CGWIC) is irreparably damaged and has been safely de-orbited to its eternal resting place in the heavens.

This was confirmed last week by the Managing Director of Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NigComSat), Ahmed Rufai, while appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology chaired by Usaq Akinlade.

Rufai then pleaded that more money be appropriated for the construction of two new satellites, as the business viability of the communication satellites in Nigeria was not in doubt.

He, however, said though the satellite had been lost forever, the underwriters had already agreed to replace it with a new one and negotiations over the 112 million Euros insurance policy was ongoing.

According to Rufai, the loss of the highly publicised satellite was not due to a manufacture defect, but caused by solar flare, which also damaged the solar panels of six other similar satellites on that fateful 9 November, 2008

"The first incident occurred on April 17, 2008 when half of the power was lost from the South Solar Array due to a single event offset leaving the North Solar Array as the only source of power," he told the committee. "Unfortunately, a similar incident occurred on the Northern Solar Panel Array on November 9, 2008 at about 10:34 p.m Nigerian time during a non-eclipse position.

The batteries are only supposed to discharge during eclipse and recharge when in non-eclipse position, while the solar array acts as the source of power to the satellite," he said. According to Rufai, Nigerian engineers monitoring the satellite noticed it immediately and communicated to the Chinese manufacturers, saying both team then worked tirelessly but, in vain to revive NigComsat - 1.

"Regretfully, all effort to recover power supply to the power panel failed. The satellite was consequently de-orbited to avoid total loss of power and control which would result in damages to other satellites in orbit or even aircraft in flights," he said, adding: "The satellite has now been manoeuvred to the parking orbit and cannot be recovered for use again."

On insurance, he said: "We wish to state unequivocally that NigComSat - 1 is fully insured to the tune of 112 million Euros in accordance with industry standards by renowned international underwriters with proven integrity. The ground segment including the Ground Station and equipment are necessarily insured under a separate policy by local underwriters."

He then asked that the Committee help it convince the Federal Government to approve the commencement of the utilisation of a $500 million concessionary loan from the Chinese Expert Import Bank for the construction of NigComsat 2 and 3. More numerate readers will notice that the 112 million euros insurance money will not cover the apparent US$250 million price tag fir each of the new satellites.

He also asked that the company be allowed to discuss with the Chinese government and the satellite manufacturer on reassigning of an emergency satellite with technical specification similar to the lost satellite in orbit or in an advanced stage of construction.