Overview of CanSat technology in Zimbabwe

The Rocket CanSat, from Ireland, still emitting signal 3 hours after the flight. Courtesy: ESA

Tapping into global technological advancements would also aid the country’s industrial agenda as the country strives to attain a middle income economy by 2030. So apt was the President of Zimbabwe, Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa as he implored on the nation to take a science and technology based trajectory in order to move at par with the rest of the world.  Indeed, in this era science plays a critical role, as humanity transforms to a new technology informed order. They is no turning back! Honourable Minister Amon Murwira is on record stating that the establishment of a space agency is not a drill but is real.

Science technology is changing the way we see, do and think about all the things we have known since birth.  All we have known is changing at an astounding pace. Does it mean we become novices all of a sudden? Not really, we have two options to adapt or to sink!

This article draws you to an innovation in science technology known as can- satellites and the various benefits it brings forth.

The Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Amon Murwira said establishment of ZINGSA would take a phased approach. The nation was enlightened that Zimbabwe will build a satellite that will be used as a launchpad for the sustainable development of the country. One of the first phases in the development of satellites development of can satellites is mainly done in Secondary schools and Tertiary Institutions.

Can Satellite (Can Sats) is a small and simple satellite that fits in a 350ml can size (66mm diameter and 115mm height) and has a mass below 350g. The idea of Can Satellite came through discoveries by Prof Bob Twiggs (Stanford University Space Development Laboratory) in 1998. He suggested a concept of developing small satellites that fits in a 350ml can and have a mass below 350g.

Many would wonder why they should bother themselves with trying to understand Can Sats. One would certainly ask which part of their lives can satellites be of relevance.

Can Sats perform a number of functions and their missions can be taking pictures, transmitting telemetry, atmospheric missions, video capture, imaging, communication and or navigation.

Satellites have changed human habitation on earth since the first satellite was launched in 1957 by Arthur Clarke. Satellites have been used for weather, navigation, television broadcasting, internet, remote sensing, earth exploration, education, disaster recovery and scientific research.

The birds eye’s view that satellites give allows one to see large areas of the earth at one time. This ability means satellites can collect data much faster than instruments on the ground.

Satellites are the best tools for environmental management and monitoring. They creates an opportunity to examine the previous state of the natural environment and the effect of human activities over time.

But how suitable is Zimbabwe for such technology?

Satellites can be used in monitoring and detection of veldt fires. In Zimbabwe it is now commonly agreed that veldt fires are a significant threat to national economic recovery plans, as they destroy not only pastures necessary for the restocking exercise, but they also destroy foreign currency generating plantations as was noted in the Environment Management Agent report of 2014.

Satellites can be used to achieve precision agriculture through the advent of Global positioning system (GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) that allow farmers to precisely identify areas within a field which are experiencing difficulties, so that they can apply, for instance, ‘the correct type and amount of fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide. Using navigation, the farmer does not only improve the productivity from his land, but also reduces his farm input costs, minimizes environmental impacts and makes timely decisions about managing the crops.

Satellites help scientists to predict weather and climate. This information helps health officials to track diseases and famine, it helps farmers know what crops to plant; and also it helps emergency workers to respond to natural disasters. Satellites can be used to discover new water sources.

For Zimbabwe developing of CanSats entails that in the near future the country will be able to utilise its geostationary orbit slot which is lying idle at the moment. This is also in line with the government policy of the new curriculum of introducing physics and chemistry in primary schools.

 If we adopt such innovation what does it change our way of living?

Satellites give us a better understanding of the world through earth observations and earth explorations. Satellite for earth observation, remote sensing can be used to attain positive results in areas of food security, disease surveillance and epidemiology, disaster management, health, security and environmental management.

They also measure gases in the atmosphere, such as ozone and carbon dioxide, and the amount of energy that Earth absorbs and emits. Satellites monitor wildfires, volcanoes and their smoke.

All this information helps scientists predict weather and climate. The information also helps public health officials track disease and famine; it helps farmers know what crops to plant; and it helps emergency workers respond to natural disasters.

CanSat provides an affordable opportunity for educators and students to acquire basic knowledge of space engineering and to experience engineering challenges in building a satellite.

Now this is the time in which Zimbabwe should join University Space Engineering Consortium (UNISEC) which is a non-profitable organization to support practical space development activities in universities and colleges, such as small satellite and hybrid rockets. UNISEC has a can satellite program which is conducted each and every year.

International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space is strongly encouraged as it is enshrined in the Space Law  Resolution 1721 A and B (XVI) of 20 December 1961.

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