The Department of Science and Innovation has invested about R18,9 million in the development of two nanosatellites, towards increased maritime domain awareness in South Africa. It is the first such initiative for the country to provide communication services to the maritime industry.
The funding was channelled through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an entity of the DSI, to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), an institution that is playing a leading role in growing space science and technology in South Africa. The university has developed cutting-edge nanosatellites and cube satellites (CubeSats) over the years, demonstrating advanced technological capabilities in the country’s space industry.
South Africa needs a more strategic and coordinated approach to ensure optimal surveillance of the waters off its coast, including shipping movements within the country’s exclusive economic zone. This will promote improved maritime domain awareness and enhanced maritime security.
The two maritime industry nanosatellites will be powered by “M2MSat” technology, in the form of cutting-edge VHD Data Exchange System (VDES) software-defined radios for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
A software-defined radio (SDR) system uses software for the modulation and demodulation of radio signals, performing significant amounts of signal processing in a general-purpose computer. The technology brings flexibility, cost-efficiency and power to drive communications forward, with wide-reaching benefits.
The innovative SDR technology will provide emerging M2M and Internet of things applications capable of delivering complex analytics and ubiquitous positioning of high-value assets, as well as mission-critical services, at a lower cost than the deployment of traditional satellite systems.
Developed as a collaboration between CPUT and local company Stone Three Communications, the M2MSat technology advances the state of the art in space innovation, significantly improving on the technology onboard CPUT’s ZACube-2 nanosatellite, which was launched in 2018.
In the South African context, the space industry ecosystem – including supporting space engineering programmes, human capacity development, infrastructure investments and technological innovations – is part of the high-end infrastructure sectors that are critical to the country’s economic recovery.
The development and commercialisation of the M2MSat platform will position South Africa as a key contributor of innovation in the space sector globally, feeding into the space value chain, growing partnerships with industry, and fast-tracking the creation and exploitation of space knowledge and innovation.
Meanwhile, plans are underway to develop Denel’s Overberg Test Range (OTR) in the Western Cape as a facility to launch future CubeSats developed by the CPUT.
Already the OTR has proven the capacity to function as a launch pad. Earlier this month, researchers and students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Aerospace Systems Research Group successfully launched two hybrid rockets as part of the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme.
The successful launch saw one of the test rockets travel 17,9 km into the air achieving a new African hybrid rocket altitude record, a significantly huge success for South African engineering and the development of African satellite rocket launch capability. The second rocket made more than 10 km altitude with a payload from CPUT.
About the CPUT satellite programme
CPUT has identified space science and technology as one of its seven strategic research focus areas, and is collaborating with the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) in this regard. The CPUT/F’SATI partnership enables students to obtain dual Master’s degrees.
This collaboration focuses on postgraduate research on nanosatellite technology, along with innovation that produces commercially viable nanosatellite communications subsystems that are marketed to the international CubeSat community.
CPUT’s Africa Space Innovation Centre has produced two satellites that were launched successfully in 2013 and 2018 respectively. The next mission – the most advanced yet – will see three nanosatellites placed in orbit for the purpose of maritime domain awareness, in line with the goals of the government’s Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy.
The past seven years have seen rapid progress in the application of nanosatellite technology for scientific exploitation. ZACube-1, Africa’s first locally produced CubeSat, demonstrated the feasibility of placing scientific payloads into orbit in a relatively affordable way.
ZACube-2, launched five years later, was the most advanced African nanosatellite to date, carrying instrumentation in support of two scientific missions – the location monitoring of ships through automatic identification system (AIS) tracking, and the detection and monitoring of wildfires by means of a potassium-line (K-line) imager developed in collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
These missions paved the way for the MDASat-1 mission, South Africa’s first mini-constellation of three nanosatellites that will work together to monitor the country’s exclusive economic zone, while embracing the next evolutionary step in tracking, the VHD Data Exchange System.
In 2019, the DSI announced a three-year, R27 million investment in the country’s Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) programme. The launch is expected to take place in 2021.
CPUT, with continued financial support from the DSI and its agencies, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the South African National Space Agency, has successfully produced state-of-the-art satellites and satellite components, while providing terrestrial support to other satellite missions through its ground station. With additional support from the NRF, CPUT has also produced more than 70 master’s and doctoral graduates over the course of a decade.
Source: Government of South Africa