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Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched three R27 million SA-made satellites

The launch of SpaceX’s Transport-3 mission was a success with three locally made satellites onboard. Picture: SpaceX

The launch of SpaceX’s Transport-3 mission was a success with three locally made satellites onboard. Picture: SpaceX

Published Jan 17, 2022


The launch of SpaceX’s Transport-3 mission was a success with three locally made satellites onboard. Picture: SpaceX

The Transporter-3 mission from Elon Musk’s SpaceX lifted off on Thursday with three nanosatellites locally produced with enhanced monitoring capabilities at the US space force station in Cape Canaveral.

In a first for South Africa, a trio of locally produced Maritime Domain Awareness Satellites (MDASat) was launched in accordance with government’s efforts to track and monitor the country’s maritime traffic.

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They are able to detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time in support of SA’s maritime domain awareness as well as marine life.

Musk said the technological advancements of today would lead to a brighter future among the stars.

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great, that’s what being a space-faring civilisation is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

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At 10:25 AM Eastern Standard Time, the partially reusable two-stage-to-orbit medium-lift vehicle, Falcon 9, launched Transporter-3.

During the live feed of the launch, you could witness the launch in real-time. It took nine minutes following the launch of the rocket, before returning on a landing pad, a fair distance from the launch site.

SpaceX reliability engineering manager Kate Tice relished the occasion during the broadcast of the successful launch.

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“The Falcon 9 has landed for the 10th time. This marks our 102nd overall recovery.”

This was SpaceX’s third dedicated SmallSat Rideshare Programme mission that allowed commercial entities and countries across the globe to pay SpaceX to transport their space crafts.

Onboard was 105 commercial and government space crafts that varied from a range of sizes with some described as smaller than a canned drink to the size of a shoebox or a washing machine.

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Blade Nzimande, minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, said over the years of development the three MDASat cost R27 million.

“This will further cement the county's position as an African leader in small satellite development, and help us to capture a valuable share of a niche market in the fast-growing global satellite value chain," he said.

He added that there was a lack of space professionals and engineers which prompted the department and the National Research Foundation to initiate a human capital development programme at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology under the French South African Institute of Technology cube satellite (CubeSat) programme.

On a small scale, the country has been involved in space activities since the dawn of the space age in 1957 and even assisted with the Apollo Programme that put man on the moon.

Justin Witten, engineering manager for the SA National Space Agency (SANSA), said they provided system engineering support, that is everything from engineering requirements to participating in the design reviews.

“Their purpose is to monitor the legitimacy of maritime vessels, but crime is indeed a major problem, and satellites can assist with change detection perhaps, but the temporal resolution will have to be pretty high that means that you will have to be watching everything, or hotspots all the time,” he said.

Witten said another way could be a requirement that every person be fitted with an automatic transponder so that the authorities know where everyone is all the time.

“I’m not sure what kind of world that will create, certainly not one worth living in if the liberties and privacy of decent citizens need to be eroded.”

The detailed trajectory of the Transporter-3 mission that launched 105 satelittes, three of which were made in South Africa. Picture: SpaceX

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was contacted for comment but declined as they had no affiliation with the SpaceX project.

Additionally there were other space crafts, as part of the Transporter-3 mission with their own intentions.

The Ukrainian Sich 2-1 satellite, Earth-imaging satellite for the Ukrainian government designed to take pictures of Earth in order to track environmental changes, urban sprawl and to help with crop management, made part of the payload..

Also on board were a pair of satellites for both ICEYE of Finland and Capella Space of the US. These are just two companies of many that build a mini-constellation in low-Earth orbit. Their fleets of small satellites, monitors and maps the earth's landmasses, oceans, and ice sheets through radar imaging.

Umbra launched the second satellite of their constellation able to provide the highest-resolution commercial radar images from space.

There were also 44 SuperDove satellites of Earth-imaging company, Planet.

Other payloads included eight 'Tevel' CubeSats built by students in Israel to provide amateur radio communications in low-Earth orbit.

Spire Global launched five small satellites which will collect and monitor weather and ship-tracking data.

Kepler Communications, a Canadian data relay company, had four cubesats on board.