The South African satellite industry is taking a giant leap as a global aerospace player, with the inclusion of two locally developed nanosatellites on the Atlas V rocket, launched on 18 April 2017.
The Atlas V launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the US, on 18 April 2017. It included a payload of 28 nanosatellites from 23 countries destined for the International Space Station (ISS).
Included among the 28 are two South African developed nanosatellites: nSight1, designed and manufactured by Cape Town group SCS Space, a member of the SCS Aerospace Group, and ZA-Aerosat, designed and manufactured by CubeSpace of Stellenbosch University. The satellites will be deployed into low-earth orbit over a period of 30 to 60 days as the ISS orbits Earth.
The Atlas V launch is part of the QB50 project funded by the European Union and managed by the von Karman Institute. Together with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) joint initiative of private aerospace companies around the world and the American government’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), nanosatellites launched will be used for telecommunications as well as research and data-gathering for atmospheric study.
Other countries with nanosatellites on board include China, South Korea, Spain and Sweden.
Nanosatellites are generally smaller than conventional satellites, thanks to advancements in nanotechnology design. The smaller satellites, which usually are discarded when their work is completed, burn up more completely when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving less debris (“space junk”) in Earth’s orbit.
Both nSight1 and ZA-Aerosat are no bigger than shoeboxes, yet contain some of the world’s most advanced technology.
The two South African satellites will be used to record factors in the Earth’s lower thermosphere, between 200km and 380km altitude.
Data collected from this experiment over the next 18 months will aid current atmospheric models, which is vital for determining safe re-entry trajectories for spacecraft. The same data can also be used for environmental study.
University of Stellenbosch and CubeSpace spokesperson Mike-Alec Kearney told EWN News that ZA-Aerosat would be used in conjunction with other satellites already in orbit. “[Sensors] at the front of the satellite… measure atomic oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and build a model of the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The nSight1 project is a joint investment by the Cape Town engineering consultancy, SCS Aerospace Group, and Pretoria software designers Pinkmatter Solutions. Working with engineers from the Space Advisory Company, the South African team designed, integrated and tested the satellite, alongside contributions from scientists at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
“We are proud to be a part of an international space project of this magnitude,” SCS Space CEO Hendrik Burger told Engineering News South Africa before the launch. “[The project] affords us the opportunity to test the next generation space camera technology which was uniquely developed by SCS Space and partners within industry development initiatives of the South African Department of Trade and Industry.”
Once launched in orbit, the next stage of the nSight1’s contribution to the overall project will include mission control and data-processing operations, which Burger said “will be done through our Houwteq Ground Station near Grabouw in the Western Cape”.