South African-built satellites launched

April 21st, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT


The South African satellite industry has taken another step forward as a player in the international space arena with the successful launch of two South African-built nanosatellites from Cape Canaveral in Florida USA.

Two CubeSats: “nSight1”  designed and manufactured by Cape Town-based SCS Space –  a member of the SCS Aerospace Group –  and ZA-Aerosat by CubesSapce at Stellebosch University, were launched as part of a batch totalling 28 CubeSats from 23 different countries.


Following a number of rescheduled events due to ground equipment readiness, the Atlas V & Cygnus OA-7 launched on 18 April 2017.  Their initial destination is the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be unloaded by the ISS crew with the help of robotic arms. The satellites will eventually be deployed into low-earth orbit over a period of 30 to 60 days as the ISS orbits the Earth.

The SCS Space nSight1 satellite project is a joint investment by SCS Aerospace Group and Pinkmatter Solutions who supplied the ground segment software. The satellite was designed, integrated and tested by engineers from the Space Advisory Company and assembled in the clean room of NewSpace Systems, both part of the SCS Aerospace Group. A key part of the mission of the satellite is to allow for the testing of the newly developed SCS Gecko Imager as well as Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s patented Radiation Mitigation VHDL Coding Technique.

Both the South African satellites are part of the QB50 project funded by the European Union and managed by the von Karman Institute to conduct research in the lower thermosphere between 200km to 380km altitude. The data collected from this experiment over a period of 18 months will be used to complement current atmospheric models especially applicable to reentry trajectories of spacecraft.  All CubeSats will eventually burn up at the end of their operational lifetimes.

“We are proud to be a part of an international space project of this magnitude. It affords us the opportunity to test the next generation space camera technology which was developed by SCS Space and partners within industry development initiatives of the South African Department of Trade and Industry,” says Hendrik Burger, CEO for SCS Space, the primary contractor for the nSight1 CubeSat.

ZA AeroSat

“We are also looking forward to the next stage of this project which encompasses operational aspects such as mission control and processing the data received from our satellite. This will be done through our Houwteq Ground Station near Grabouw in the Western Cape,” said Burger. Other participants in the nSight-1 project are Pinkmatter Solutions, Space Advisory Company, NewSpace Systems, Stellenbosch University, CubeSpace, Simera Technology Group, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the Southern Amateur Radio Satellite Association (AMSAT SA).

The ZA-AeroSat project is a collaboration of the Electronic Systems Laboratory (ESL) in Stellenbosch University Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and CubeSpace.  “Since the ESL and, more recently, CubeSpace, are already widely recognised internationally for innovative small‐satellite orientation control systems, they were also  asked to supply 15 control units (attitude determination and control systems) to other satellites in the QB50 project. “We are helping out where other participants don’t have enough experience in satellite control systems. It’s a huge challenge to keep a satellite within 100 of the orbiting direction,” said  Prof. Herman Steyn. “The control units have now successfully been operating in space on these test satellites for more than two years. The funding received for these control units helped to sponsor ZA-AeroSat.”

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) was involved in the development of the ZA-AeroSat communication modules. Steyn said that ZA‐AeroSat will also be used to demonstrate the aerodynamic stabilisation of a satellite in practical terms for the first time. “The antennas at the back of the satellite will be used like the feathers of a shuttlecock to give the satellite partial passive stability,” he said.  “This will be made possible by the greater atmospheric density in the low orbiting heights of QB50.”

All the CubeSats in the QB50 project will  operate mainly on frequencies in the 2 m and 70 cm amateur bands. In order to avoid interference to terrestrial amateur radio activity the frequencies were coordinated by the IARU satellite adviser and his advisory panel.

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