SA’s ZACube-2 nanosatellite transmits first images from space

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

When Professor Robert van Zyl unveiled the first images transmitted by the ZACube-2 nanosatellite, he felt that all the hours that went into the project were well worth it. 

The images showed the busy traffic flow of vessels along the continent’s most lucrative coastline – where 90% of all the trade amongst African countries is conducted. 

After unveiling the images, Van Zyl, the director of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) satellite programme, said he was proud of the team of students that worked on the project. 

“The average age of my engineers is probably below 30. This is a young team building very innovative electronics here in South Africa so it is a team of 10 engineers working about two years on it. I would estimate about 6 000 work hours have gone into the satellite,” he said. 

The unveiling of the first images comes after ZACube-2, the most advanced of its kind yet, was launched into space from the Vostochny spaceport in Russia in December. 

The nanosatellite is a three-unit CubeSat weighing just over four kilogrammes and only uses 10 watts of power. 

It was developed to help monitor the traffic of vessels along the coastline as part of the country’s oceans economy. 

At a later stage, the cube will also help with the detection of veld fires and provide near real-time information that will help emergency services teams to respond quicker to disastrous fire situations.

Science and Technology Director-General Phil Mjwara told journalists after the launch that the department had invested R16 million in the project, which is still being commissioned. 

“The Department of Science and Technology, working with other government departments, including the Department of Environmental Affairs, put in about R16 million to work with CPUT, the CSIR and industry partners... 

“The launch of ZACube-1 and [now] ZACube-2 was part of us developing the capability to monitor what is happening in our oceans. 

“We are extremely delighted with what CPUT has done with the partners in order to demonstrate that you can have a satellite, locally built and developed, that was successfully launched and that is now able to get a signal from the ships that are in the sea. 

“Later on, we [will] have a fire detection system that has been developed by our own -- the CSIR -- in order to monitor fires,” Van Zyl said.   

Following the success of ZACube-2, Mjwara said the department has now contracted CPUT to develop a further three satellites towards the complete Marine Domain Awareness (MDA) constellation.  The satellites will be ready for launch in 2020. –