Denel Spaceteq is a South African space engineering company with specialities in satellite and space mission control design and development, with a successful launch and space heritage. The company is the space-focused subsidiary of Denel Dynamics, (formerly Kentron), a division of Denel SOC Ltd – South Africa’s largest armaments and aerospace manufacturing company wholly owned by the South African Government.
According to its website, the company’s products and services include “everything from complete satellites, through components there-of, mission control systems with flexible software down to AIT assistance, testing services, specialised advice on space systems design and training of client personnel”.
Located in the Western Cape, Denel Spaceteq boasts of the Houwteq facilities which include “clean rooms, thermal-vacuum ovens, anechoic chamber, mechanical and acoustic vibration and designated client areas encompassing secure access enclosed areas with open-plan offices, conference rooms and small laboratory space and fast secure wifi internet connection”.
In a recent African #Newspace Edition, Space in Africa had interaction with the company’s General Manager, Mr Cyril Khuzwayo. Mr Cyril in an email explained the company’s formation, business model, milestones and entry into the international space market.
Denel Spaceteq absorbed Sunspace – South Africa’s pioneer privately-owned satellite manufacturer that spun off from the University of Stellensbosch’s SunSat satellite programme. Spaceteq was formed at a time when Sunspace’s financial difficulties coincided with the Government’s interest in growing strategic space capabilities, alongside Denel Dynamics’ diversification strategy.
According to Mr Cyril, “Sunspace’s challenges coincided with the Government’s renewed interest in space with a strategic focus to address South Africa’s challenges through space products and services. The government committed to developing and maintaining a robust set of space capabilities, services and products to support national priorities”.
“The SA Cabinet deliberated on the future of the space capability and decided, on 10 October 2012, to absorb the intellectual property (IP) and tangible assets into the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). Denel was then approached by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to support the Government’s National Space Programme by creating a new business unit which will consist of Sunspace employees and by reviving Denel’s latent satellite space capability”, Mr Cyril notes.
He adds, “the opportunity to enter the space business came at the time that Denel was looking to diversify the business away from a purely military portfolio into other related fields that could benefit from existing capabilities. Denel was previously involved in the satellite and space-related sector, making this opportunity ideal for Denel to revive and grow its latent capabilities and fully exploit the capacity of the Houwteq facility, which was purposely-built for Satellite and Space Asset development. Denel Dynamics was identified as the best location for this new space business unit and Denel Dynamics Spaceteq was created in June 2013”.
Upon formation, the Government of South Africa through the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) awarded Denel Spaceteq a contract to develop an earth observation satellite, EO-SAT1, in collaboration with the local space industry, in fulfilment of the South African commitment to the African Resource Management (ARM) Constellation. The ARM is multilateral space cooperation between Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria and Kenya aimed at creating a shared and affordable EO satellite constellation to provide data to support environmental and resource management in Africa.
On the status of the EO project, Mr Cyril explains, “Denel Spaceteq is the prime contractor for EO-SAT1. The Program entails Design, Development, Fabrication, Qualification and Delivery of EO-SAT1 Satellite Flight Model + Data-Packs. The Client is the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) who gets funding from the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The Programme is funded by DST”.
“The Programme Started in March 2015 due to deliver Flight Model in March 2019. However, due to funding challenges, the programme is now expected to be finished in March 2021. The programme supports local space industry and over 30% is contracted to this industry. It is envisaged that up to 50% of local industry participation will be achieved as the programme develops”.
Technical Progress of the EO-SAT1:
Mr Cyril, further explains the technical progress of the project, “the EO-SAT1 programme has successfully completed the Systems Requirement Review (SRR) and the System Definition Review (SDR) and is currently at 90% completion for the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). Spaceteq has also progressed by 30% into the Critical Design Phase. The programme has temporarily halted due to funding shortages from SANSA to fund both the programme and the upgrade of testing facilities”.
It will be interesting to highlight any milestones or progress the company has made in terms of technology innovation, work culture, partnerships or revenue growth. What should we expect from the company in the next five to ten years?
In response to the above question, My Cyril notes, “over and above the IP generated over 5 years in the development of all the elements and subsystems of the satellite, the EO-Sat1 program boasts a number of indigenous Proudly South African high innovation products, that can be produced en-mass for export markets and of value to DST/SANSA for other programmes in its portfolio. Some of these products outperform international products. Spaceteq is already receiving enquiries from the international market on some of these products”. These innovations include:
- Reaction Wheels – Performance exceeds international competitors.
- Downlink Communication Antenna – This X-band antenna is cheaper and has better performance than our international counterparts.
- Newly developed space qualified Onboard Computer utilizing experience from the Sumbandila satellite technology programme.
- Satellite Bus – Improved (from Sumbandila) protocol and flexibility for integration with new and different satellites.
- Multispectral and High-Resolution payload – The best performing payload in a satellite designed in the southern hemisphere.
- Star Cameras – Used for satellite orientation and has better performance than international competitors.
- Ground Station Software – This is able to communicate with and track a variety of South African satellites. This is already communicating with and can be used to control the South African cubesats launched over the past year (e.g. nSight & Aerosat).
“In addition, the Houwteq refurbishment programme has gained international interest and all international visitors have commented on the incredible potential of this facility for manufacturing, testing and integration of satellites. Some have indicated their interest in making use of the facility after it has been fully upgraded”.
Human Capital Development and Transformation
He adds, “It is worth stating that Denel Spaceteq is the only highly Transformed company in the South African Space Industry of its size with 50% transformation at all levels. It boasts the highest number of young engineers (male and female) from Previously Disadvantaged groups (PDI’s) who have grown into specialists areas in satellite design and development work. This is one of the important objectives that DST/SANSA and the DST Minister, in particular, feels strongly about”.
“It is also worth mentioning that 10 Interns were taken in over the period 2014 – 2016, who became fully involved in EO-Sat1 technical day to day design and development responsibilities”.
“The South African Government has a number of upcoming space programmes in the earth observation and communications sectors. Denel Spaceteq is a state-owned company with space engineering capability required by the SA Government to solve the country’s socio-economic challenges. Denel Spaceteq is a strategic partner and provider of Innovative Space Technologies, Products and Solution to South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world”.
He concludes by noting, “Denel Spaceteq is pursuing many market opportunities in the international market for both complete Satellite solutions as well as Satellite subsystems”.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.