SA university celebrates launch of 1,2?kg nano satellite

2013-11-22 00:00

CAPE TOWN — South Africa’s first nano satellite was yesterday activated after its successfully launch from Russia.

The 1,2 kg satellite was first called Zacube1, but minutes before its launch at 9.10 am (South African time) yesterday it got its official name, Tshepiso, which means promise.

The new name was chosen from entries by pupils, and was the name suggested by Chachane Kgothalang, a Grade 9 pupil in the Eastern Cape. She had entered a competition hosted by the South African Agency for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

A few hundred people crammed into the French South Africa Institute for Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology to watch the live broadcast of the launch from Yasny in Russia, where the delivery rocket had been built over the past two years.

“I will never forget this day and moment,” said Professor Robert van Zyl, director of the satellite programme, shortly after Tshepiso Sat orbited over Cape Town for the first time, 23 minutes after launch.

Francois Visser and Ian van Zyl are also part of the team that built the satellite in Bellville with funding from the Department of Science and Technology.

Tshepiso Sat comprises 4 000 electric components that took 30 000 hours to assemble, but the little machine consumes only about as much electricity as a three-Watt lightbulb.

Dr Ben Opperman from the South African Space Agency (Sansa) said the satellite was packed with 23 other satellites on the rocket. The team in Cape Town could only activate their satellite half an hour after all the satellites had separated from the rocket and had moved apart.

The main test was to see if the sensitive little machine had survived the violence of the launch and if all the parts would power up. “He’s alive, this is really huge” an excited Van Zyl later told sister paper Die Burger over the phone.

He said the satellites would drift more than 1 000 km apart in the next day. Tshepiso was orbiting Earth at 7,5 km/second. “This is faster than a bullet, faster then even Superman,” said Opperman.

The team at the control station at the Bellville campus will contact the satellite three times a day as it orbits over Cape Town. Apart from the learning experience this will give the students and lecturers, the satellite will help gather data on space weather and for experiments.

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