The NewSpace startup is led by Siyabonga Copiso, who is the outfit’s first CEO. Siyabonga is assisted by Dr Thandi Mgwebi (the Chairwoman). Mr Lee Annemalai, Prof Robert van Zyl and Mr Louw Barnardt are Directors of the Board.
In a recent conversation, Siyabonga Copiso and Prof Robert van Zyl discussed the Newspace company and the space programme at CPUT with Space in Africa.
The influence of university research on industrial innovation and entrepreneurship on a global scale cannot be overemphasised, especially in advanced technology fields such as space science and technology. One of the foremost examples includes the United Kingdom’s University of Surrey that led the global small satellite supplier market through its spinoff company, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. Airbus Defence and Space later acquired Surrey Satellite Technology, marking a landmark deal for university communities around the world.
Similarly, South Africa’s Stellenbosch University laid the foundation for the country’s burgeoning commercial space industry. Stellenbosch University spun out the defunct SunSpace Limited – South Africa’s first commercial manufacturer of small satellites – which was later incorporated by the South African government to form the state-owned Denel Spaceteq.
CPUT is currently leading academic research and industrial innovation in the development and commercialisation of nanosatellites in South Africa. The university hosts the F’SATI (French South African Institute of Technology), a research collaboration between Paris ile-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry, its Engineering School (ESIEE Paris), CPUT and the Université de Paris- Est Créteil (UPEC). F’SATI was established at CPUT in 2008 as the second node of the research collaboration in South Africa, with a focus on space science and technology.
The university launched ZACube-2 on 27 December 2018, an advanced three-unit technology demonstrator CubeSat. The Ultra-high Frequency & Very High-Frequency UHF/VHF transceivers and the S-band transmitter onboard ZACube-2 were built in-house at F’SATI/CPUT. The CubeSat follows a successful space heritage from ZACube-1, which was launched in 2013 by CPUT. ZACube-2 is a precursor mission for MDASat, a constellation of nano-satellites for providing maritime domain awareness services through its SDR platform.
Through the support of the South African government, CPUT is positioning its satellite program to become a leading innovation lab for scientific research and human capacity development in space science and technology. The university is looking to take on the global nanosatellite market, having successfully developed IP products in Software Defined Radio platforms and small satellite subsystems.
CPUT spun out Amaya Space to market its nanosatellite communications solutions and mission knowledge that has been developed over the years in the ZACube satellite programme.
“Amaya Space is being operationalised. It currently commercialises the CPUT suite of nano-satellite radios through its distribution agreement with Clyde Space. Its first milestone is to assist CPUT in delivering on the initial MDASat constellation of three nano-satellites,” Amaya Space CEO, Siyabonga Copiso, told Space in Africa.
The startup has the capacity to design and implement full space missions for CubeSats and small satellite programmes. Amaya Space sells components to the global nanosatellite market through its Scottish distribution partner, Clyde Space, joining the global nanosatellite value chain from an area of domain expertise in CubeSat radios.
Amaya Space has to date consulted the government for funding, but has also considered securing private and institutional funding as well.
“We have embarked on a capitalisation drive to secure funding towards larger constellations of nano-satellites to provide cutting-edge maritime communications services to improve South Africa’s maritime governance and security capacity,” Siyabonga said.
The NewSpace startup boasts of being transformational to South Africa’s space industry and claims to represent the demographics of the nation’s cultural diversity. Amaya Space employs young black South African engineering graduates and provides a talent pipeline for South Africa’s human capacity in advanced engineering fields, such as satellite engineering.
Amaya Space undertakes research and development through existing relations with CPUT. The NewSpace startup is leveraging facilities, resources and technical talent at CPUT’s Africa Space Innovation Centre to scale its innovation and maintain business networks in the South African space ecosystem.
CPUT won a government contract to build South Africa’s future constellation of nanosatellites for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) under the Operation Phakisa project. The university will receive an additional R27 million investment (about USD 2 million) from the South African Government through the Department of Science and Technology (DST) for development of the MDA mini-constellation of three nanosatellites. The constellation will be developed in partnership with Amaya Space and other South African space companies.
On the current status of the project, Siyabonga said: “the project has kicked off in January 2019, and CPUT (under contract from the Department of Science and Technology) is approaching the final stages of the design phase. Amaya Space, together with other South African small satellite companies, will partner with CPUT for the AIT, launch and operations of the constellation”.
“Our role is to assist in the commercialisation of the IP generated by the programme and develop operational satellite missions contracted to the university,” he added.