Satellite launches first for SA
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CAPE TOWN - In a first for South Africa's space industry, three locally produced nanosatellites were launched into space yesterday as part of Elon Musk's SpaceX Transporter-3 mission.
The first Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite constellation (MDASat-1) was launched from Cape Canaveral in the US, aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket at 5:25pm.
South Africa's satellites will be deployed in low earth orbit at an altitude of 525 kilometres.
Transporter-3, SpaceX's third dedicated rideshare mission, carried a total of 105 spacecraft, including CubeSats, microsats, PocketQubes and orbital transfer vehicles.
The MDASat-1 launch is a significant milestone for South Africa, marking the first launch of a satellite constellation developed entirely on the African continent.
The full 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.
Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, said the Department of Science and Innovation's (DSI's) funding and support of South Africa's satellite construction industry was reaping rewards.
He said the deployment of the nanosatellites was toward the goals of Operation Phakisa and unlocking the ocean economy.
“Launching a satellite like this enables us to monitor our oceans better and also improve security of the world that is located in our oceans,” Nzimande said, adding that they were pleased to connect with the South African diaspora and Musk.
"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."
The Department had invested R27 million over three years in the development of the MDASat constellation, Nzimande said.
The Department is implementing this work through the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
An excited CPUT Acting Chief Engineer on the project, Nyameko Royi, joined his team at CPUT to watch the launch live with Nzimande, DSI officials and others.
He said the team was excited to be able to show the viability of the technology built.
Department Director-General Dr Phil Mjwara said engineers will now establish communication with the satellites in conjunction with experts at CPUT.
“Once communication has been established… the satellites will start their polar orbit. They are moving from north to south.
“The satellites are flying one after the other. The purpose of that is to allow the satellites to have an eye on the sea on a constant basis. We will have our own capabilities of monitoring our oceans.”