Department of Science and Innovation invests R18, 9 Million in the Development of Nanosatellites for Maritime Industry

CPUT'S ZACube-2, the precurosr to the MDAsat-1 Credit: DST @dstgovza

The Department of Science and Innovation has invested about R18,9 million in the development of two nanosatellites, towards increased maritime domain awareness in South Africa. It is the first such initiative for the country to provide communication services to the maritime industry.

The funding was channelled through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an entity of the DSI, to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), an institution that is playing a leading role in growing space science and technology in South Africa. The university has developed cutting-edge nanosatellites and cube satellites (CubeSats) over the years, demonstrating advanced technological capabilities in the country’s space industry.

South Africa needs a more strategic and coordinated approach to ensure optimal surveillance of the waters off its coast, including shipping movements within the country’s exclusive economic zone. This will promote improved maritime domain awareness and enhanced maritime security.

The two maritime industry nanosatellites will be powered by “M2MSat” technology, in the form of cutting-edge VHD Data Exchange System (VDES) software-defined radios for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.

A software-defined radio (SDR) system uses software for the modulation and demodulation of radio signals, performing significant amounts of signal processing in a general-purpose computer. The technology brings flexibility, cost-efficiency and power to drive communications forward, with wide-reaching benefits.

The innovative SDR technology will provide emerging M2M and Internet of things applications capable of delivering complex analytics and ubiquitous positioning of high-value assets, as well as mission-critical services, at a lower cost than the deployment of traditional satellite systems.

Developed as a collaboration between CPUT and local company Stone Three Communications, the M2MSat technology advances the state of the art in space innovation, significantly improving on the technology onboard CPUT’s ZACube-2 nanosatellite, which was launched in 2018.

In the South African context, the space industry ecosystem – including supporting space engineering programmes, human capacity development, infrastructure investments and technological innovations – is part of the high-end infrastructure sectors that are critical to the country’s economic recovery.

The development and commercialisation of the M2MSat platform will position South Africa as a key contributor of innovation in the space sector globally, feeding into the space value chain, growing partnerships with industry, and fast-tracking the creation and exploitation of space knowledge and innovation.

Meanwhile, plans are underway to develop Denel’s Overberg Test Range (OTR) in the Western Cape as a facility to launch future CubeSats developed by the CPUT.

Already the OTR has proven the capacity to function as a launch pad. Earlier this month, researchers and students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Aerospace Systems Research Group successfully launched two hybrid rockets as part of the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme.

The successful launch saw one of the test rockets travel 17,9 km into the air achieving a new African hybrid rocket altitude record, a significantly huge success for South African engineering and the development of African satellite rocket launch capability. The second rocket made more than 10 km altitude with a payload from CPUT.

Read about the CPUT satellite programme