NATIONAL NEWS - TshepisoSAT, South Africa's first nanosatellite has survived one year in space, during which time it has travelled 250 million kilometres, taken many images, beaten 50% survival odds and inspired thousands of learners, resulting in a tripling of student applications for the CPUT Space Programme for 2015.
The nanosatellite is still going strong, as it continues on its 6 billion kilometre journey, after taking off from the Yasny Launch Base in Russia this time last year, on top of a RS-2OB Dnepr rocket. TshepisoSAT was designed and built by CPUT postgraduate students participating in the Satellite Systems Engineering Programme at the French South African Institute of Technology (F'SATI), in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Internationally, more than 50% of CubeSats fail early in their missions. TshepisoSAT has beaten the odds and survived the harsh radiation from the sun, extreme temperature fluctuations, a few strong solar storms and two close encounters with defunct Russian satellites.
Dr Peter Martinez, the Chairperson of the South African Council for Space Affairs, commended F'SATI for this remarkable achievement. "The odds are against you when you launch a nano-satellite, but CPUT got it right, and this is a major achievement," says Martinez.
Humbulani Mdau, Chief Director: Space Science and Technology at the Department of Science and Technology, says that TshepisoSAT (meaning ‘promise') has put the country and the continent on the global map. 50 students have graduated through the programme with a R21-million investment from the DST. "The nanosatellite is testament to the skills in South Africa and its development has been instrumental in creating opportunities for science advancement, as well as human capacity development," he says.
"Through the development of TshepisoSAT, CPUT has made a huge contribution towards meeting the country's goals in the science, technology and engineering spheres and promises to stimulate foreign investment in our high-end communications subsystems that we sell to the international nanosatellite community," says Director of the CPUT space programme, Prof Robert van Zyl. "TshepisoSAT truly embodies the hope and promise of the next generation of space engineers."
Van Zyl, says: "The increase in interest of students wanting to study a Masters degree in electrical engineering with a focus on satellite systems engineering is amazing. CPUT has seen an astounding tripling of applications for 2015."
"We have proven that we have developed the capacity to build reliable nanosatellites," says van Zyl. "The fact that our first satellite is still operational means that the know-how, infrastructure and ground operations have been established in support of the high-reliability space industry in South Africa."
He continues: "We are very proud of our achievements to date and of our contribution to developing the South African space industry in a holistic manner, encompassing awareness programmes, advanced technical and engineering skills development on nanosatellite platforms, space science research, earth observation applications, innovation, as well as addressing the regulatory aspects of the space industry."
"South Africa is establishing a broad based indigenous capacity to develop advanced space craft for a range of applications that benefit society, as well as the user community who can use the data from the satellites for the development of services," he adds.
It is a 24-hour job to monitor the satellite and decipher the data. One engineer is employed full time to operate the satellite and package the data and telemetry received.
"We are currently concentrating efforts on deploying the nano-satellite's main antenna that is connected to the high-frequency beacon, which will be used to study the propagation of radio waves through the ionosphere, providing valuable space weather data to the South African National Space Agency Space Science Directorate and to enable improved space weather modeling and forecasts," van Zyl says.
Dr Sandile Malinga, from the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), says that this satellite will enable data gathering on space weather for SANSA, which is integral to the understanding and monitoring of solar activity during this period of solar maxima, a phenomenon that can have critical implications to the functionality of our technology and electricity on Earth as well as the operation of satellites.
Reflecting on the next stage of the TshepisoSAT mission, Van Zyl adds: "The satellite is a landmark achievement for the next generation of space engineers and scientists in South Africa. But also being Africa's first nanosatellite in space, the mission serves as inspiration to learners and students from across the continent. As TshepisoSAT continues on its 6-billion kilometre journey before re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, we will continue with commissioning the space weather experiment onboard. We will also continue to image South Africa, and will soon start with imaging Africa and other parts of the world."
He continues: "In terms of building African linkages, we will establish more ground stations at partnering institutions in SA and regionally. This will allow students from across Africa to also track our satellite and participate in the mission."
The tiny 1,2kg cube satellite measuring 10x10x10cm, is about 100 times smaller than Sputnik 1, the first satellite launched into space in 1957. It took 18 months, 30 000 hours of manpower and forty CPUT students to build and to finish the cube satellite, which contains 4,000 electronic components and runs on the same amount of power as a 3-watt bulb.
TshepisoSAT, which orbits earth up to 15 times a day at an altitude of 600km, has also received its official licence from the South African Council for Space Affairs (SACSA) and is now included in South Africa's national register of space assets.
The team at CPUT has stated development on ZACUBE-2, which will be three times larger than the first CubeSat and will be used for more advanced Earth observation and remote sensing applications, as well as space weather research. The satellite will be ready for launch in 2016.Source: Sapa