The Ministry of Science and Innovation has invested about 18.9 million R18 in the development of two nanosatellites to raise awareness of marine domains in South Africa. This is the first such initiative for the country to provide communication services to the maritime industry.
Funding was channeled through the Agency for Technological Innovation (TIA), a DSI entity, to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), an institution that plays a leading role in the expansion of space science and technology in South Africa. The university has developed advanced nanosatellites and CubeSats over the years, demonstrating advanced technological capabilities in the country’s space industry.
South Africa needs a more strategic and coordinated approach to ensure optimal monitoring of coastal waters, including shipping within the country’s exclusive economic zone. This will promote improved awareness of maritime domains and improved maritime security.
The two nanosatellites from the marine industry will be powered by M2MSat technology, in the form of an advanced VHD data exchange system (VDES), software-defined machine-to-machine (M2M) radio stations.
A software-defined radio system (SDR) uses software to modulate and demodulate radio signals, performing significant amounts of signal processing on a general-purpose computer. The technology brings flexibility, cost efficiency and power to propel communications forward, with far-reaching benefits.
The innovative SDR technology will provide emerging M2M and Internet of things applications capable of delivering complex analysis and ubiquitous positioning of high-value assets, as well as critical services, at a lower cost than the deployment of traditional satellite systems.
Developed as a collaboration between CPUT and local company Stone Three Communications, M2MSat technology advances modern space innovation, significantly improving CPUT’s ZACube-2 nanosatellite technology launched in 2018.
In the context of South Africa, the space industry ecosystem – including support for space engineering programs, human capacity development, infrastructure investment and technological innovation – is part of the high-end infrastructure sectors that are crucial to the country’s economic recovery.
The development and commercialization of the M2MSat platform will position South Africa as a key contributor to space innovation worldwide, power in the space value chain, a growing partnership with industry and rapid monitoring of the creation and exploitation of space innovation.
Meanwhile, plans are underway to develop Denel’s Overberg Test Range (OTR) in the Western Cape as a facility to launch future CubeSats developed by CPUT.
OTR has already proven its ability to function as a launch pad. Earlier this month, researchers and students from the KwaZulu-Natal University’s Aerospace Systems Research Group successfully launched two hybrid rockets as part of the Phoenix hybrid sound rocket program.
The successful launch showed that one of the test missiles traveled 17.9 km in the air, achieving a new African hybrid record for altitude, a huge success for South African engineering and the development of Africa’s ability to launch satellite rockets. The second missile made an altitude of over 10 km with a payload of CPUT.
About the CPUT satellite program
The CPUT has identified space science and technology as one of its seven focal areas in strategic research and is collaborating with the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) in this regard. The CPUT / F’SATI partnership allows students to obtain double master’s degrees.
This collaboration focuses on postgraduate research on nanosatellite technologies, along with innovations that produce commercially viable nanosatellite communication subsystems that are marketed by the international CubeSat community.
The CPUT’s African Space Innovation Center has created two satellites that were successfully launched in 2013 and 2018. The next mission – the most advanced to date – will see three nanosatellites placed in orbit to identify marine domains, in line with the objectives of the the government operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy.
The last seven years have seen rapid progress in the application of nanosatellite technology for scientific exploitation. ZACube-1, Africa’s first CubeSat, demonstrates the ability to put scientific payloads into orbit in a relatively affordable way.
ZACube-2, launched five years later, was the most advanced African nanosatellite to date, carrying tools to support two scientific missions – monitoring the location of ships through an automatic detection system (AIS) and detecting and monitoring forest fires by means of of a potassium line (K-line) established in collaboration with the Scientific and Industrial Research Council (CSIR).
These missions paved the way for the MDASat-1 mission, the first mini-constellation of three nanosatellites in South Africa to work together to monitor the country’s exclusive economic zone, while embracing the next evolutionary step in tracking, the VHD data exchange system.
In 2019, DSI announced a three-year investment of R2 million in the country’s marine domain intelligence program (MDASat). The launch is expected to take place in 2021.
The CPUT, with continued financial support from DSI and its agencies, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the South African National Space Agency, successfully manufactures advanced satellites and satellite components while providing ground support to other mission satellites through its ground station. With additional support from the NRF, CPUT has also produced more than 70 undergraduate and doctoral students in a decade.