Higher Education, Science and Innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande has announced the launch of three locally-produced nanosatellites from the US on Thursday (13 January), as part of South Africa’s new Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) constellation.
The MDASat will be an operational constellation of nine cube satellites that will detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time, in support of South African maritime domain awareness.
The launch of the first three satellites (MDASat-1) follows three years after the launch of the most advanced South African nanosatellite to date, ZACube-2, which was developed as a technology demonstrator for the MDASat constellation.
“Since its launch in 2018, ZACube-2 has been providing cutting-edge very high frequency (VHF) data exchange communication systems to the country’s maritime industry, as a contribution to Operation Phakisa,” Nzimande said.
The minister said his department had invested R27 million over three years in the development of the MDASat constellation.
“The MDASat-1 launch will be a significant milestone for South Africa, marking the first launch of a satellite constellation developed entirely on the African continent.
“This will further cement South Africa’s position as an African leader in small satellite development, and help the country to capture a valuable share of a niche market in the fast-growing global satellite value chain,” said Nzimande.
The three MDASat-1 satellites are scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in the United States on Thursday (13 January) at 17h25 South African time.
Although South Africa has been involved, on a relatively small scale, in space activities since the dawn of the space age in 1957, the national space industry requires specialised skills.
Nzimande said that the lack of space professionals and engineers had prompted the department to launch a human capital development programme at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). under the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) cube satellite (CubeSat) programme.
This includes the introduction of a Master’s in Electrical Engineering focusing on satellite systems.
“As part of this programme, students are taught engineering principles using CubeSats as training tools,” Nzimande said.
“CubeSats are built using the same engineering principles as any other satellite, hence highly specialised and advanced skills are acquired through this programme.”