The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) yesterday announced the successful completion of the preliminary design review of the Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) mini constellation.
The South African government had earlier contracted CPUT to develop a mini constellation of three nanosatellites under the Operation Phakisa economic development horizon, following the successful launch of ZACube-2 in December 2018.
ZACube-2, developed by CPUT, is a technology demonstration mission equipped with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver as its main payload, through which navigational data is received. ZACube-2 also carries a near-infrared imager for forest fire detection. ZACube-2’s AIS main payloads serve as precursor missions for the MDASat-1 constellation, whereas the secondary near-infrared imager is a demonstration payload for the proposed FireSat constellation – a collaboration between South Africa and UK institutions aimed at detecting wildfires in Africa.
In January 2019, the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) announced that it is committing an initial investment of R27 million investment (about USD 2 million) for the MDASat-1 project; to be disbursed to CPUT as the prime contractor.
The constellation is being implemented by the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI), a French-South African space research node hosted by CPUT, in a collaboration with a host of South African newspace companies including Amaya Space – CPUT’s commercial spin-off; Denel Spaceteq, CubeSpace, CSIR; Stone Three, Stellenbosch University; Astrofica and Luvhone Engineering and Consultants.
According to officials of the South African Space Agency (SANSA), the MDASat-1 implementation plan further corroborates South Africa’s intentional shift to application-led National Space Strategy whereby space missions fit into the realisation of the nation’s long and short term socio-economic goals.
Some of the areas already identified for the application of the MDASat constellation include the Southern African Development Community Maritime Security Strategy (SADC MSS) and the African Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 (AIMS 2050); both are multilateral maritime security strategies championed by South Africa. These maritime security strategies are critical for South Africa’s economic growth and security, particularly, as it is an ‘island economy.’ As Africa’s largest operator of maritime and naval capacities, the South African government believes the MDASat constellation is vital to the growth of its maritime economy and naval security.
Also, the MDASat constellation will provide direct commercial services for operators in the aviation and industrial sectors as well as other consumers of satellite services.
Commenting on the successful completion of the preliminary design review for the MDASat-1, SANSA Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Valanathan Munsami , applauded the “great work” of the F’SATI team at CPUT. In a tweet, Dr. Munsami noted his excitement to “see the satellite constellation in orbit and the marine domain awareness fully operational.
Great work Robert to you and the team. Can’t wait to see the satellite constellation in orbit and our marine domain awareness fully operational. https://t.co/8l8l0udqaM
— Valanathan Munsami (@ValanathanM) September 11, 2019
The MDASat programme will further bolster South Africa’s growing capacity in small satellite technologies due to the government’s resolve to contract almost all aspects of the project to South African companies and research universities.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Editor at Space in Africa. He writes about Africa’s NewSpace companies and emerging national space programs.