South Africa Launches MDASat-1 Constellation to Monitor Oceans

MDASat-2 satellites launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket

South Africa has launched three nanosatellites today, 13 January 2022. Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) developed the satellites as part of South Africa’s new Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) constellation.

The satellites will detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time, supporting the South African maritime domain awareness. The three MDASat-1 satellites launched from Cape Canaveral in the United States at 17h25 South African time. Furthermore, it travelled to space on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket via the Transporter 3 (Dedicated SSO Rideshare) mission.

Falcon 9 Rocket preparing for launch

The MDASat-1 launch will be a significant milestone for South Africa, marking the first launch of a satellite constellation developed entirely on the African continent. This will further cement South Africa’s position as an African leader in small satellite development. Furthermore, it will help the country capture a valuable share of a niche market in the fast-growing global satellite value chain,” said Nzimande.

CPUT’s Acting Chief Engineer on the project, Nyameko Royi, noted that increased visibility in space by more nations bodes well for all. “This mission would mark the first constellation of satellites developed and designed in Africa. The more we get people involved in space, the better, the more data we extract from space- the better for the world. This is a significant milestone for CPUT and South Africa,” he says.

Falcon 9 Rocket preparing for liftoff

Dean of the Engineering and Built Environment Faculty at CPUT Professor Marshall Sheldon also discussed the project’s remarkability. According to her, “the MDASat launch is the latest development in a long timeline of space engineering events at the university, which first began in 2008.” “Each successful development and launch is a paradigm shift away from the traditional space industry norms. We are proud to be at the centre of that. Attracting more undergraduate and postgraduate learners to careers in space science will ensure we continue celebrating future successes,” she says.

Furthermore, the data the mission gathers will typically help the South African government effectively manage the Nation’s territorial waters. Additionally, a significant development is that South Africa will possess the home-grown know-how to acquire this vital information. This will consequently reduce the Nation’s reliance on foreign companies for this data.

The MDASat-2 satellites rest in the rocket’s payload

You can rewatch the launch via this link.

MDASat Specs

The first three satellites of the MDA constellation will carry an upgraded AIS receiver payload from ZACube-2. They will consequently be capable of the following;

  • Over the air upgrades, which means its operators can develop and upload software to the orbiting satellite when ready.
  • Raw data: The payload captures raw data and enhances the opportunity for diagnostic testing on signal interference and decoding messages.
  • Long Range AIS: These are two specific channels to be used as uplinks for receiving AIS messages by satellite.More effective messaging scheme: The first generation payload was limited in saving data and having it extracted by the ground station. The enhanced data interface will optimise the data transmitter’s bandwidth.

These enhancements pave the way for the future MDASat-2’s development and launch. Furthermore, they minimise the risk of damage to the current payload.


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