A 10kg satellite designed by South African engineers is floating in space, watching over the country’s coastline and sending home real-time information about impending natural disasters.

The ZACube-2, worth R16.5million, is the first of a “constellation of satellites” that the Department of Science and Technology is planning to send to space to collect data.

The satellite was launched in Russia this week, as part of the Russian Soyuz Kanopus mission and is the most advanced satellite in Africa.

Several nano-satellites (small satellites) from countries including the US, Japan, Spain, and Germany were launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome along with the ZACube-2.

The department’s deputy director-general for technology innovation, Mmboneni Muofhe, said they would launch eight more satellites.

“The ZACube-2 will assist with disaster monitoring including fires, floods and drought. It’s sending information to us so we can plan ahead, and evacuate people if need be.

“This information is critical, this satellite is our eye in the sky,” he said.

It will also monitor marine traffic as part of Operation Phakisa.

It has the ability to detect a ship’s GPS co-ordinates, direction of travel, speed, and registration information.

“It will logistically help us so we can be aware of ocean and traffic and better manage it,” said Muofhe.

ZACube-2 is sending real-time information to the National Oceans and Coastal Information Management System.

“We want to have a constellation of satellites that will orbit the earth, and collect information that is exclusively for our country. Currently we receive data from foreign satellites, now we are hoping to gain ‘data sovereignty’.

“We can even sell the data we collect,” he added.

The satellite was created by engineers and scientists based at the French South African Institute of Technology which is part of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The university came to the fore in 2013 when it designed the ZACube-1, which was Africa’s first nano-satellite.

CPUT’s acting deputy vice-chancellor research, technology and innovation Professor Marshall Sheldon said: “Nano-satellites are affordable to produce and provide a paradigm shift from the traditional large satellite industry.

“Highly responsive and agile they provide real world solutions to real world issues. Initiatives like ZACube-2 are helping to attract more learners to careers in space engineering and as it does, the abundance of ingenuity, creativity and entrepreneurship that pulsates through the youth of South Africa becomes ever more apparent.”

ZACube-2 will be given a new name soon, following a national satellite naming competition by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement involving schoolchildren across the country.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE