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West Africa Rising: Nigeria sends two new satellites into space

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West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

Five hundred miles into the cold universe, at the cusp of sky, two satellites tumble into orbit, guided by the background light of stars – a remarkable sight, no doubt.

What's more remarkable still is the country that rocketed them up there: Nigeria.

Earth's least likely space-going nation reached further into the stars last week, when Nigeria shot its third and fourth satellites into orbit, including the first satellite built by Africans.

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From their exospheric perch, the two will map one of humanity's final frontiers: Lagos. The vast megalopolis, home to between nine and 17 million people, is a constantly-shifting phenomenon in urban non-planning.

“These cities are growing very rapidly,” says Ylva Sandring, spokeswoman for England's Surrey Satellite Technology, which built one of the two satellites. “One of the ways these satellites can be used is for mapping the area and looking at that growth.”

Behold the Nigerian space program, an improbable endeavor that once cherished the dream of shipping a Nigerian into orbit by 2015.

“I don't think that one is actually feasible,” says Umar Isah, an engineer with Nigerian Communications Satellite, a public-private partnership with the Nigerian government.

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