R27m cash injection for satellite programme

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The ZACUBE-2 nanosatellite, launched last year December, is a precursor to a constellation of satellites that will detect things like veld fires.
The ZACUBE-2 nanosatellite, launched last year December, is a precursor to a constellation of satellites that will detect things like veld fires.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will invest R27 million over the next three years to support the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's (CPUT's) satellite programme.

This is the word from Dr Phil Mjwara, director-general at the DST, noting his department has already invested R16.5 million in the CPUT programme, established with the department's support in 2009.

Mjwara made the comments at a plenary briefing focused on providing updates on SA's CubeSat satellite, ZACUBE-2, which was hosted by CPUT.

SA's ZACUBE-2, launched into space from the Vostochny spaceport in Russia last December, is considered the most advanced in the African continent to date. Weighing just four kilograms, the nanosatellite carries an automatic identification system payload for monitoring the movement of ships along the South African coastline.

At a later stage, the satellite will also help with the detection of veld fires and provide near real-time information that will help emergency service teams respond quicker to disastrous fire situations.

CPUT, together with other DST entities, was involved in the building and development of ZACUBE-2. Furthermore, the satellite is operated from the university's ground station, with backup support provided through the Spaceteq Ground Station at Houwteq.

According to the department, ZACUBE-2 is a demonstrator for the technology that will ultimately be used in a constellation of nine nanosatellites, which will be developed to facilitate South African maritime domain awareness. The Marine Domain Awareness (MDA) satellite constellation will provide data exchange systems for the maritime industry in support of Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy.

Mjwara explained the department is investing in the CPUT satellite programme because it responds to the country's national priorities. "The country has a vast coastline, and ZACUBE-2 is monitoring ship activity in support of Operation Phakisa."

Through DST initiatives, SA has made clear its ambition to become a key player in the innovative utilisation of space science and technology in responding to government priority areas.

CPUT's professor Robert van Zyl, who heads the institution's satellite build programme, says ZACUBE-2 has already shown that the majority of its functions are operating as planned.

Van Zyl revealed the first images transmitted by the nanosatellite, which showed the busy traffic flow of vessels along SA's coastline.

Mjwara concluded by saying the department has now contracted CPUT to develop a further three satellites towards the complete MDASat constellation. The satellites will be ready for launch in 2020.

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