Engineers at the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) have created a type of communication technology that relies on signals that travel via the ionosphere, and are sensitive to constantly changing space weather.
Previously, a type of communication called high-frequency (HF) radio, was commonly used before the advent of satellite radio communication, particularly for long-distance communication. It is also relied upon by countries without access to satellite communications. The high-frequency (HF) radio offers a variety of security perks which are still used by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and other parties.
However, HF signal propagation is sensitive to the volatile changes in space weather which affects the ionosphere, and the SANDF needs accurate forecasts of the conditions that might affect usable frequencies for HF communications, and has consequently, relied on SANSA for the provision of space weather data for better HF signal propagation forecast for several years until now. Recently, software engineers developed a visual, intuitive tool, Ionospheric Characterisation, Analysis and Prediction (IOCAP), which has made the forecasting easier than ever.
The IOCAP tool also helps train new operators on how to make sense of the scientific theories behind the frequency predictions; make two-paired frequency predictions for the two transmitters of a circuit in one step, and predictions for communication with moving receivers such as on a ship or a vehicle.
“These products are technical, and very hard to read, so people wanted an operational solution,” says SANSA’s Piet van Zyl, who is responsible for developing the IOCAP tool. “It’s a formidable thing to study. We have created a canvas with a dual-map system so that you can zoom right down to street-level”.
Read more about the new app on SANSA website.
Jerry Chiemeke is an editor, writer and mental health advocate. His works have appeared in Bellanaija, True Nollywood Stories, Music In Africa and The Guardian, among others. Jerry is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Reviews. He is a Senior Editor at Space in Africa.