Cape Town - Farmers across the world, and the Western Cape in particular, have a new reason to cast their eyes up to the sky after the successful launch of the world’s first agriculture-focused satellite on January 3.
The launch of South African-manufactured satellite from Cape Canaveral in the US on Elon Musk’s SpaceX is the product of Stellenbosch’s Dragonfly Aerospace and is set to provide the agriculture and forestry industry with high quality data to support efficient and sustainable practices.
The Earth observation satellite EOS SAT-1 was part of the first space launch in 2023, the SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, which launched 114 small satellites into low Earth orbit at once.
South African Council for Space Affairs chairperson, Pontsho Maruping, said the success of the satellite was expected to generate more than $100 million (R1.7 billion) in revenue.
He said as it was the first commercial satellite licensed in South Africa after seven government-sponsored satellites, the launch was a historical milestone in the South African space regulatory regime.
“This successful launch by Dragonfly of the AGRISAT satellite shows yet again South Africa’s international capability in the space industry, and will boost its credibility for investment in the space area,” Maruping said.
The satellite contains locally produced high-performance imagers that will gather satellite imagery related to agriculture. The entire imaging satellite system was designed and manufactured by Dragonfly Aeronautics, a member of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Chamber deputy president, Derryn Brigg, said over the next three years the company was due to deliver a further six micro-satellites as part of a landmark deal for the space technology industry and for the broader regional economy.
Brigg said a noteworthy feature of the Dragonfly story was the foreign investment which laid the foundation for their success.
“For years the space technology sector has struggled to secure South African government investment in micro-satellite projects, and it fell to the private sector to get things moving.”
He said the global data analytics company, EOS Data Analytics, had partnered with South African stakeholders “in what is clearly a vote of confidence in local expertise”.
Brigg said it was appropriate that the latest micro-satellite was launched by SpaceX, a company founded by South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Dragonfly Aerospace was founded in Stellenbosch by a team of five satellite engineers led by global specialist in micro-satellites and high-resolution cameras, Bryan Dean, with more than 20 years of proven heritage in high-performance imaging satellites and payloads.
Since April, 2021, the company has had a majority shareholding held by Ukrainian international technology entrepreneur, Max Polyakov.
When acquiring his stake in the company, Polyakov said: “Dragonfly’s advanced technology provides high-quality images in a wide range of spectrums and resolutions that are critical for monitoring the health of our planet, and enabling intelligent agriculture that protects biodiversity.
“This improves global food security and supports a healthy environment which ultimately benefits the lives of people on Earth.”