Monday morning saw a new chapter of the conquest of space be written as China launched a communications satellite for Nigeria, a seemingly innocuous event which in fact represented the first such launch for Africa and the inaugural space piggy-back ride given by China to a foreign nation.
The carrier rocket, Long March 3-B, blasted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province at 0:01 Monday with reports from the Xi'an Satellite Control Center confirming the satellite had properly entered orbit.
The Nigerian Communication Satellite, or NIGCOMSAT-1, is a super hybrid geo-stationary satellite designed to cover Africa, parts of the Middle East and southern Europe.
The West African nation sent a high-level delegation to the launch headed up by the Minister of Science and Technology, Turner Isoun with the Nigeria Television Authority broadcasting the whole launching process and ceremony live.
It is estimated that the satellite program's influence will be far-reaching by revolutionizing Africa's access to telecommunications, broadcasting and broadband services.
Employment will be a major beneficiary as the program could create over 150,000 jobs in Nigeria, allow Internet access in remote villages, and slash phone charges broadband costs by US$660 and US$95 million respectively.
The digital economy in Nigeria and across Africa will pick up as the satellites play pivotal roles in e-commerce and in improving state efficiency.
Hammed Rufai, managing director of the NIGCOMSAT-1 project, also praised the satellite for hopefully helping Nigeria migrate from its over-reliance on oil and progressively moved towards a knowledge-based economy.
After fixing itself in orbit at a longitude of 42 degrees east, the satellite should be activated by Nigeria and have a lifespan of 15 years. It will be tracked jointly by ground stations in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and the Chinese city of Kashgar.
China won the deal with Nigeria in 2004 after outbidding 21 international rivals to secure the US$311 million deal.
The satellite and carrier rocket, that were built in China and purchased by Nigeria represent the 98th flight of China's Long March rockets and were developed by the China Academy of Space Technology and China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
The successful project highlights China's wish to work with developing countries in boldly and peacefully exploring space. China has already signed several cooperative contracts offering commercial launching services for foreign satellites, such as that signed with Venezuela in November 2005.
(Xinhua News Agency May 14, 2007)