Students ready to send satellite to space for SA
SA WILL launch its first CubeSat, a nanosatellite called ZACUBE-1, before the end of the year, in a move expected to pave the way for the launch of other nanosatellites and to draw more students into satellite engineering, says the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Satellite production is a high-technology, high-skills niche, which the government has earmarked as an area for human capital development and a way to increase investment.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor told Parliament this year the Treasury had earmarked R100m for satellite development.
A standard CubeSat unit is a cube of 10cm x 10cm x 10cm with a mass of 1kg, with scientific payloads on board.
They can be stacked together to make a larger satellite.
SA’s first CubeSat — sometimes called a "student satellite" — was designed and built by postgraduate students of the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, funded by the Department of Science and Technology.
"It is a fraction of the cost (of a larger satellite) which makes it easier for universities to get involved," said Prof Robert van Zyl, director of F’SATI at the university. "Internationally, people accept the development and launch costs of a unit CubeSat to be about $500,000, but it can be more depending what you want to do, and (on) research and development on the payload."
Prof van Zyl said it was difficult to quantify the cost of ZACUBE-1, because more than half of the budget of F’SATI’s postgraduate programme in satellite systems engineering went to bursaries.
Both Stellenbosch University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology have CubeSat programmes, with a strong focus being human capital development and knowledge exchange between the two universities.
"We want to support the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) with engineers, but they can’t take them all. To build a satellite, you have to be a good engineer. In the broader tech industry in SA, (our graduates) are very productive," Prof van Zyl said. There was a "huge international community of students building CubeSats", he said.
Sansa Space Science MD Lee-Anne McKinnell said CubeSats were ideal for students because "the lifetime for a CubeSat (from start to launch) is also the lifetime of a student’s degree".
InnovUS, a Netherlands-based nano-satellite specialist company, said more than 100 CubeSats have been launched to date. "CubeSats are a unique and wonderful way to put small science experiments into space," said Dr McKinnell.
ZACUBE-1 was designed in conjunction with Sansa’s space operations to monitor space weather at an altitude of 600km. As it heads towards its solar maximum next year, the sun is becoming more active, showing a spike in solar flare and sun spot activity, which results in plasma ejections and solar winds, which can deform the ionosphere and Earth’s magnetic field.
The ionosphere is a charged upper layer of the atmosphere, which makes long-wave radio communication, GPS and cellphone communications possible. Radio waves "bounce" off the ionosphere, allowing them to be transmitted to the other side of the world.
ZACUBE-1’s payload includes a "high-frequency beacon", which will calibrate a radar in Antarctica which monitors the ionosphere, Dr McKinnell said.
SA has a base in Antarctica where, among other things, it conducts ionospheric research. The last time the radar was calibrated was in 2007, when a helicopter was contracted to fly over Antarctica, Dr McKinnell said.
"The satellite will transmit a radio signal (from space) which will be picked up at ground stations at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Sansa," Prof van Zyl said. Through this data, scientists will be able to model the ionosphere. "This is especially important now with the increase in solar storms, to model the effect of solar storms (on the ionosphere) which affects terrestrial communication," he said.
ZACUBE-1 will leave SA next month and will be launched from Russia in November, the university said.
More in this section
- A company’s transparency ‘earns respect’ in SA
- Radio astronomy publication a milestone for SA
- Gauteng hospitals to get waste-generated backup power supply
- Joburg sets 2016 target to divert waste from landfill sites
- Network sees value biodiversity has for business
- Buyers, not banks or agents, push for greener homes
- Guptagate report shows manipulation, collusion and illegal blue lights
- SABC presenter Mbuli hailed as patriot and ‘zealous newshound’
- Karabus lawyer says South African nurse behind bars in UAE
- Eskom was ‘on the brink of a power shutdown’
- Iran ‘behind US cyber blitz’
- THICK END OF THE WEDGE: We can already write the NDP off