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SA to pioneer launch of nanosatellites on the continent

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Minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande.
Minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande.

South Africa is today expected to launch three maritime-focused nanosatellites into orbit, a first for the African continent.

The three nanosatellites – the first to be entirely developed on the African continent – will be launched from Cape Canaveral in the United States at about 5:25pm today.

The three satellites form part of the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) constellation.

Government says, when complete, the constellation will comprise nine satellites that will “detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time in support of South African maritime domain awareness”.

SA first announced its foray into space engineering in March last year, when the DSI made a multimillion-rand investment into the development of two nanosatellites, to provide communication services to the maritime industry.

At the time, the department said SA needed more strategic and co-ordinated optimal surveillance of the waters off its coast, including shipping movements within the country's exclusive economic zone, hence the investment.

Today, minister of higher education, science and innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, described the launch of the constellation satellite as a significant milestone for the country.

“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.”

The minister lauded the country for making strides in the space industry by reaching this milestone.

Further, minister Nzimande said his department has developed a human capital development programme based at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, called the cube satellite (CubeSat) programme, which seeks to remedy the lack of professionals and skills in the industry.

He explained: “As part of this programme, students are taught engineering principles using CubeSats as training tools. CubeSats are built using the same engineering principles as any other satellite, hence highly specialised and advanced skills are acquired through this programme.”

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