14 November 2013
The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) is set to make history with the launch of South Africa’s first cube satellite, ZACUBE-1, from the Yasny base in Russia at 09:10 South African time on 21 November, the university announced on Monday.
The nano-satellite is a single unit carrying a space weather experiment, and will be sent up atop the RS-2OB rocket Dnepr.
Running on the same amount of power as a five-watt bulb, ZACUBE-1 will orbit Earth up to 15 times a day at an altitude of 600 kilometres. Measuring only 10x10x10cm and weighing 1.2kg, it is about 100 times smaller than Sputnik, the first satellite launched into space in 1957.
It will carry a high frequency beacon which will be used to study the spread of radio waves through the ionosphere. This will provide space weather data to the South African National Space Agency (Sansa).
Funded by the Department of Science and Technology, the satellite was designed and built by CPUT postgraduate students in collaboration with Sansa, following the CubeSat programme at the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI).
“The launch of CubeSat is proof of the skills and the facilities we are gradually developing to ensure space science and technology really benefits every citizen of South Africa,” Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said in a statement.
The director of F’SATI, Professor Robert Van Zyl, said the strength of the CubeSat programme was its use of cube satellites as technology platforms for practical skills training and applied research.
“This approach offers our students a unique learning experience and prepares them to participate in the South African space industry.”
Established in 2009, the CubeSat programme has graduated 32 master’s students, bringing to 42 the total number of F’SATI alumni at CPUT. The programme has also provided internships to 15 of the graduates as engineers-in-training.
The nano-satellite, designated “ZA-003” in the national register of space assets, follows in the footsteps of micro-satellites Sunsat and SumbandilaSat.
Cube satellites, or “cubesats”, were originally developed in the United States in 1999 by California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University to help universities worldwide perform space science and exploration.