Mauritius was the winner of the 3rd round UNOOSA/JAXA KiboCube Programme in 2018 whereby Mauritius was awarded (by JAXA) the opportunity to build and deploy, for the first time in its history, a 1U Cube Satellite through the International Space Station (ISS). The MIR-SAT1 will be sent by JAXA to the International Space Station (ISS) and deployed from the Japanese Experiment Module (Kibo) “KiboCUBE”.
The first 1U Mauritian nanosatellite, MIR-SAT1 (Mauritius Imagery and Radio – Satellite 1) was designed by a team of Mauritian Engineers and an experienced Radio Amateur from the Mauritius Amateur Radio Society in collaboration with experts from AAC-Clyde Space UK.
The primary objective of the MIR-SAT1 is to acquire satellite technology through the design process, design review, assembly, integration and testing. In parallel, the MRIC will set up a Ground station located at its premises in Ebene, which will serve to control and operate the MIR-SAT1. This Ground station will also allow receipt of data and telemetry from other satellites. The Ground Station will be equipped with a ‘FlatSat’ module which is a replica of the 1U which will enable engineers to simulate all the required manoeuvres prior to sending the command to the CubeSat. The FlatSat Module is a key tool for the Mauritian Engineers to design future CubeSats after the MIR-SAT1.
Data that will be collected from the 1U cubesat are:
- satellite health data (e.g. battery charge level, the status operating system onboard, etc.),
- payload data, i.e., pictures of Mauritius and surrounding regions
- experimenting island to island communication.
The MIR-SAT1 is expected to have ground contact with Mauritius 4 to 5 times per day depending on the season and its expected lifetime is about 2 -3 years.
In line with Space in Africa’s 2020 in Review series, we had a chat with Dr Vickram Bissonauth, the Research Coordinator at the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council on what the institution has been up to in 2020 and what to look forward to in 2021.
Is there an update on your satellite project?
The testing and building of the satellite (MIR-SAT1) was carried out by the MRIC’s collaborating partner, AAC-ClydeSpace in Glasgow and was completed in November 2020. JAXA started the 3rd Safety Assessment review, which will ensure that the cubesat is compliant with all the requirements of KiboCube Program. Further to the successful completion of this review, the MIR-SAT1 will be shipped to JAXA from Glasgow. It is expected that the Satellite will be at JAXA in January 2021. JAXA will then launch the satellite to the ISS via the launcher SpaceX-22 and eventually deploy it space by May/June 2021. The MRIC will be the operator of the satellite, and a state-of-the-art ground control station is currently being set up for this purpose.
How is the ambition of the Mauritius Space Program and the development of a National Space Policy coming up?
The first Mauritian Nanosatellite comes at an opportune time at the dawn of the New Space Era. Thanks to the KiboCube program, Space/Satellite technology no longer seems to be a farfetched opportunity for Mauritius to take the maximum advantage of. Understanding the technology, the data and the subsequent opportunities of this new space era is of paramount importance for boosting research, development and innovation in the Republic of Mauritius.
With these guiding principles in mind and leveraging on the fruitful exchanges with experts from JAXA and Clyde Space during the MIR-SAT1 project implementation, the MRIC is envisaging a longer-term program – The Mauritius Space Program – aiming at considering how the space technology, satellite technology and satellite data could be harnessed in the Mauritian context to contribute to the socio-economic development and innovation of the Country.
We look forward to developing the Space program around the four major pillars namely: (i) Capacity building, (ii) developing space-based solutions leveraging on the challenges faced by the blue economy as a starting point, (iii) strengthening collaborative links for development of the technology and (iv) incentivising new business development around space/satellite data and technology.
There is significant progress around the development of the Mauritius Space Program, is a National Space Policy being developed?
At this point, it is too early to say. Our first satellite isn’t in space yet, there are many questions unanswered yet, and the policymakers do not realise yet what the potential of space is to the country. It will take some time as we want to create more awareness. When people physically see our satellite being deployed in space, that will be a big boost, and we can capitalise on that for a major awareness campaign.
The whole space program is still largely under MRIC, how soon will it be a stand-alone?
This is what we aspire too, but we are still at an early stage and until our satellite is deployed before we can start looking at this.
Aside from the satellite launch, what other projects should we be expecting from you in 2021?
We are trying to intensify collaborations with other partners but nothing official yet. We are exploring a couple of avenues, but it won’t be appropriate to talk about these at this period.