The 28th workshop on space technology for socio-economic benefits organised by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) provides a forum for discussion on space science, technologies and applications for space exploration in support of sustainable economic, social and environmental development and as a source of inspiration, innovation and discovery. In addition, the workshop serves as a platform for inclusive growth in space technologies, taking people, students, private sectors, researchers, academia, innovators and other actors on board in bringing benefits of space exploration to the end-users. Speaking at the event, Faraaz Shamutally from the Mauritius Research Council (MRIC) provided insights into MRIC’s space journey.
Astronomy in Mauritius
Mauritius has been actively involved in astronomy since before now. The country built its telescope, the Mauritius Radio Telescope (MRT), between 1988-1992 at Bras d’Eau, and the telescope marked the beginning of radio astronomy in Mauritius. The MRT has trained many students in Physics and Engineering and has over 100 publications produced.
The ongoing projects of MRT include:
- CALLISTO (Compact Astronomical Low-frequency, Low-cost Instrument for Spectroscopy in Transportable Observatories).
Among 28 countries currently providing data to the International Network of Solar Radio Spectrometers. (As of Oct 2021)
- MITRA (Multifrequency Interferometry Telescope for Radio Astronomy) in collaboration with the Durban University of Technology.
- Mauritius Deuterium Telescope (MDT)
MRT Future projects:
- New Antennas Fabrication and Testing;
- MITRA – forming part of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network (AVN);
- Ionospheric Scintillation Monitor (SANSA);
- Solar Radiation Measurements and Study;
- Optical Observations;
- 2 PhD students via DARA (Development in Africa for Radio Astronomy) and activities with BSc students in line with upcoming SKA (Square Kilometer Array).
Mauritius Satelite Project: MIR-SAT1
In 2018, the team from the Mauritius Research Council that worked on the MIR-SAT1satellite was selected for the 3rd round of KiboCUBE, becoming the third successful candidate to participate in the capacity-building initiative. The KiboCUBE program is run by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It enables teams from developing countries to develop and deploy their CubeSats from the ISS, following Kenya and Guatemala.
The satellite was eventually launched on 3 June 2021. The objective of the MIR-SAT1 project was to enable Mauritius to:
- Acquire knowledge and skills in satellite technology.
- Build capacity in satellite/space technology.
- Satellite communication.
- Use onboard payload to capture images of Mauritius and its EEZ.
- Test the island-to-island communication module.
On 22 June 2021, the satellite was successfully deployed from the International Space Station, and on31 August, the satellite’s commissioning was completed. The satellite was registered with UNOOSA on 6 September, and on 7 October, MIR-SAT1 images were unveiled.
Like most African countries, Mauritius believes satellite technology can prove instrumental in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the MIR-SAT1 is already contributing to SDG 4, 9 & 17: quality education, industry, innovation and infrastructure and partnerships for the goals, respectively.
The Space Unit at the MRIC includes a state-of-the-art ground station and mission lab to promote research, development and innovation.
The Space unit aims to look at four pillars:
- For the use of capacity-building in space/satellite technologies.
- Leverage international collaboration for future developments in space initiatives.
- Exploring the applications of space data to advise policymakers.
- Incentivising the creation of new space/satellite related start-ups in Mauritius.
Potential areas contributing to space exploration in Mauritius
- Ground Station as a Service (GSaaS) for the use of existing stations or set up a network of ground stations;
- A potential Spaceport for launching and receiving spacecrafts due to the advantages it has such as no crowded airspace, safe downrange distance; as well as being a potential hotspot for horizontal take-offs, horizontal landings and suborbital flights;
- An Astronomical Observatory: no large cities causing less air and light pollution and easy access to a remote location.