PICS: SA pushes ahead with ocean monitoring satellite programme

2019-02-27 17:18
Researchers work on the 4kg ZACube-2 satellite. (DST)

Researchers work on the 4kg ZACube-2 satellite. (DST)

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The government, through the Department of Science and Technology, has affirmed a further commitment to the Maritime Domain Awareness satellite programme.

In addition to funding of R16.5m, the department will pump another R27m into the programme over the next three years, department director general Phil Mjwara announced on Tuesday.

South Africa's marine environment faces acute risks that require an eye in the sky.

"The risk is very big and real. There were a couple of ships caught in our waters that were not supposed to be there and you have oil leaks that you have to investigate," deputy director general for technology and innovation Mmboneni Muofhe told News24 on Wednesday.

READ: SA readies latest ocean-watching satellite for launch

The department will fund the deployment of nanosatellites, known as CubeSats. Advances in technology mean these devices can deliver data at very low cost compared to larger satellites.

Constellation of satellites

ZACube-2, which is in development, is regarded as the most advanced in Africa and will be a precursor to the constellation of satellites to be used to patrol South Africa's coastal waters.

"We all know the issue of poaching of our abalone and the illegal dumping of waste. With this satellite technology, you are able to have a sense of which ships are entering our waters and when transponders get switched off, there is reason to be concerned," said Muofhe.

Researchers work on the 4kg ZACube-2 satellite. (D
Researchers work on the 4kg ZACube-2 satellite. (DST)

Researchers work on the 4kg ZACube-2 satellite. (D

Researchers work on the 4kg ZACube-2 satellite. (D

Researchers work on the 4kg ZACube-2 satellite. (D

He added that the satellites would also be able to detect impending natural phenomena.

"They are also going to deal with natural risks such as algae blooms. If you pick this up in time, you can relocate your fish stocks where you do aquaculture."

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) currently has a mandate to observe, detect and report on South Africa's oceans, but the agency does not always have hardware available to conduct enforcement activities.

"You need to know what you need to enforce. What Samsa does, is enhanced by what we do," Muofhe said.

Data sovereignty

He added that while there were several satellite providers from whom the government could simply obtain data, having local data sovereignty was vital both as a cost saver and for security.

"Obviously, when you rent you pay and when you rent there are also conditions.

"The satellite imagery is not only used for civilian purposes. Some of this imagery can be used for military purposes. Having your own data gives you data sovereignty.

"If there is flooding, you don't want to get data from a satellite that passed over yesterday."

While the first ocean monitoring satellite was launched under the Operation Phakisa programme in November 2013, the new device will give the government better data on the marine environment.

"Today we have four satellites in space, and one dedicated to our oceans economy. We want to add at least eight more to increase our coverage to 24/7," said Muofhe.

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