SA could lead on micro satellites, says Sansa

2013-11-18 07:46
Researchers put the final touches on the ZACUBE-1 micro satellite. (F'SATI)

Researchers put the final touches on the ZACUBE-1 micro satellite. (F'SATI)

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Cape Town - The commercial opportunities represented by micro satellites is one that South Africa could not only take advantage of, but lead, the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) has said.

"The market for micro satellites is a growing one as it offers the development of engineering and scientific skill as well as the opportunity for scientific research," Sansa CEO Dr Sandile Malinga told News24.

The latest South African satellite, the ZACUBE-1, is set to be launched on 21 November from Yasny Launch Base in Russia.

The tiny satellite which weighs a mere 1.2kg was built by students at the French South African Institute of Technology (F'SATI) located at CPUT campus in Bellville.

Beyond the prime mission of analysing the ionosphere of the Earth, the satellite represents a platform for the application of local skills in space research.


"The ZACUBE-1 mission is used as a training platform for young engineers and technologists to prepare them for the national space industry. CubeSats have initially been developed for exactly this purpose, as it provides a technology platform that is within the technology and financial means of many universities," said Professor Robert Van Zyl, director of the F'SATI.

Since the launch of Russia's Sputnik in 1957, only nine other countries have been able to launch rockets into space and SA experimented with the RSA-3 rocket based on the Israeli-designed Shavit in the 1980s though the project was later abandoned.


Sansa said that the country is prepared to look seriously at space research because of the benefits accelerated technology can have on the economy.

"Sansa is committed to encourage research in space as it supports South Africa’s objective of moving the country toward developing a knowledge economy. Space research is important for the global competitiveness of the country and affords collaborations across the world for the benefit of our citizens and mankind," said Malinga.

India recently launched a mission to study the atmosphere of Mars and the programme faced some criticism that a country with social problems should not spend money on space.

Sansa conceded that SA had significant social challenges, but said that the benefits that could accrue to society outweighed the cost of a space programme.


"Sansa is aware that we operate in a country with significant social challenges and our mandate of being ‘In service of humanity’ is one we take very seriously," Malinga said.

He cited some of the examples of how a space programme could materially help South African society.

"Downloading and processing Earth observation satellite data, products and tools for government departments and private customers for use in addressing some of the social challenges like infrastructure and housing planning, managing our natural and environmental resources, improving agriculture, monitoring and management of natural disasters and even for the safety and security of our nation" are some of the benefits of an active space programme.

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