Small wonder: SA's tiny satellite is a big milestone
Cape Town space engineers prep Africa’s most advanced cube satellite for vital marine-tracking duties
It weighs barely more than 4kg, and is known as a “miniaturised satellite”, but it packs a mighty punch for data collection.
On Tuesday, in a major milestone for South Africa, the continent’s most advanced cube satellite yet was prepared for send-off to India – stopping in The Netherlands en route – where it will be launched into space later this year.
Once it’s “up there”, it will track marine activity along South Africa's coastline and will also be able to detect forest fires.
This is the sequel to another huge milestone by the same French South African Institute, based at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, which sent the predecessor, ZACube-1, up in 2013 for “space weather research”.Now, the new nano-satellite known as the ZACube-2 will “track marine traffic (as in ship traffic)”, CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley told Times Select this week.
“This feeds directly into the directive of Operation Phakisa [a government initiative to boost growth and employment] and ultimately the National Development Plan which aims to maximise the potential of the vast ocean expanse that SA has at its disposal.”
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, more than 30,000 vessels pass through South Africa’s coast on an annual basis, with 13,000 docking in our ports, providing opportunities for job creation.
By monitoring the coastline, South Africa can “snuff out illicit trade like poaching and collaborate in problem analysis with industry and government partners”, Kansley said.
In 2009, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) identified CPUT as an academic and industry partner to groom the next generation of space engineers.
Said Kansley: “To see South Africa and CPUT in a key role in the African space race is a particularly exciting endeavour and we look forward to rolling out the next phase of the programme which is a constellation of satellites for maritime tracking and the other to track fire on the African continent.”
The project is funded by the DST and managed by the South African National Space Agency (Sansa).
“Sansa strives to grow the local space industry through product, services and skills development. Supporting such programmes as ZACube-2, enables the country to benefit from trained and experienced young space engineering experts,” said Sansa CEO Dr Val Munsami.
The main payload on the satellite is an automatic identification system (AIS )receiver with which navigational data will be received from ships along our coast.
“This data, which includes the ships’ GPS co-ordinates, registration information, speed and direction of travel, will assist the authorities to track ship traffic in our exclusive economic zone, and improve the safety of ships,” said Munsami.