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With great excitement, on Thursday, 13 January 2022, South Africa will be contributing to the scientific world and joining the extraordinary space age.
This comes after the announcement that the first of three satellites from the Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) constellation will be launched.
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, was pleased to announce that the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) funding and support of South Africa’s satellite construction industry is now bearing fruit.
The MDASat constellation 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 (MDA).
The DSI is implementing this work through the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). 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, 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”.Dr Nzimande
Further saying that the DSI spent R27 million over three years developing the MDASat constellation.
Although South Africa has only been involved in space activities on a relatively small scale since 1957, the national space industry requires specialised skills.
As a result, the Minister stated that a lack of space professionals and engineers prompted the DSI and its entity, the National Research Foundation (NRF), to launch a human capital development programme at CPUT through the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) cube satellite (CubeSat) program, which included 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,” Dr Nzimande said. CubeSats, he explains, are built using the same engineering principles as any other satellite. As a result, this program provides specialised and advanced skills.
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,” stated Dr Nzimande.
The three MDASat-1 satellites are scheduled to launch Cape Canaveral in the United States on Thursday, 13 January 2022, at 5:25 pm, South African Standard Time. This is the most recent estimated time, and it may change depending on weather conditions.
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