28 year old Shehu Balami, is a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna. He has been researching into rocketry trying to make rocket that will fly, although he initially made many smaller models that instead of flying, exploded due to very low power and lack of enough thrust to drive the rocket.
He said that after making the smaller models that, he started making some horizontal tests produced enough power to drive the rocket and it was then he started to believe that he could actually make a rocket that can fly. “My family especially my mother encouraged me to continue even when the rockets were not flying,” he said.
“The first successful rocket I made that flew was to demonstrate before my work project was titled “Design and construction of an amateur solid propellant rocket” after producing it, it flew and that was how i eventually got it in 2008,” he stressed, adding that, the project was the best in his department in year 2008.
In February, 2011, the young-engineer apart from the rocket he produced as his project work, he invented and launched two solid-fuel rockets along the new Kaduna Millennium City road in Kaduna state.
Speaking at the site of the launching, Balami explained that he started working on the rockets since February, 2010, and had wanted to launch them in October, 2010 to celebrate Nigeria at 50 but could not because of financial constraints. He said that was the reason for designing the rockets in Nigeria national col-our: green white green.
He disclosed that he developed interest in rocketry since he was a child not only with the aim of building them but to enable him build space satellite for Nigeria in the future. “I have a special passion for anything that flies be it aeroplane or rocket and that was the reason why I started researching into rocketry, and in fact it informs the choice of my project topic in the university,” he stated.
The two rockets Balami launched flew impressively well into the space at normal speed but could not reach the calculated distance of 1.3 Km due he identified as scarcity of unadulterated materials in the local market.
The rockets numbers are J03 and J04, explaining that the ‘J’ stands for his mother’s name Jummai because of her contributions and encouragement towards the realization of his dream and aspiration of inventing a rocket that could fly.
According to him the components of his rocket include: fuel (potassium nitrate, sulphur, and carbon), mild steel for the casing, the fins were also made of mild steel while the nose was made of plaster of Paris (POP). The calculated speed of the rocket was 660km/h, takeoff weight – approximately 1kg, propelling weight for the first one was 344 grams while that of the second was 364 grams. The engine length according to him was 300mm while the outside diameter was 4.8cm.
On how he gets funding to produce the rockets, he said he has been getting support from his friends and family members. He said the first rocket he produced in 2008 that flew cost him about 10,000 naira only, but the two he launched in February, 2011 cost him approximately 30,000 naira each adding that he used hundred percent local contents.
He said he was able to invent the solid-fuel rocket with the support from his friends under the auspices of Movement for the Propagation of Science and Technology in Nigeria, a group which comprises friends with interest in science and technology.
“Our aim is to create awareness on the practical application of what is learnt in school for the development of the society. The group started from the university when, we delivered lectures to students on science and technology from jet and, rocket engines to electric circuit. The name of the group in school was Passion for the Application of Engineering and Technological research Information (PAETRI),” he explained.
He said their movement had written letters to the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) but is yet to get response.
He explained that, the rocket is a vehicle that uses engine proportionately so that it can to convey equipments and satellites to space and also assist the take-off of heavy aircraft. It has a military application and it can carry a war-head and in that case it is called a missile.
He lamented Nigeria’s reliance on advanced countries to send her satellite into the space due to lack of conducive atmosphere for indigenous talented inventors to strive in the country after 50 year of independence, noting that there is need for the federal government to recognize and provide conducive atmosphere for scientists and technologists if it wishes to attain the desired vision 20:2020.
“If government pays attention to local scientists and technologists and supports them financially, with this kind of invention I just launched, I believe strongly that one day we will be able to build our own satellite or the engine that will take the satellite to the space and save Nigeria a lot of money,” Balami stressed.
Engineer Balami said that he has also started researches in building of Remote Controlled Aircraft, which he intends to go into immediately after the launching of his rocket.
He has been described as an embodiment of talents and a gift to his generation, emphasizing that he has to be properly utilized so that he can contribute his quota to the technological advancement of Nigeria.