Bolstered by the anniversary of their first camera operating in outer space and being chosen to develop space hardware for a unique science mission currently orbiting the moon, a South African satellite company is now poised to deliver the highest resolution hyperspectral camera yet to fit into a Cubesat.
Last week on Friday 22 June the Cape Town-based Space Advisory Company (SAC) celebrated the anniversary of the first image taken over Canada by their Gecko Imager from outer space at an altitude of 400km. The Imager is still operating flawlessly from their satellite orbiting Earth. This anniversary follows hot on the heels of supplying a critical digital controller unit for a Dutch astronomy experiment hitching a ride on the Chinese Change’4 satellite currently orbiting the far side of the moon.
“Our next exciting step is producing the Chameleon Imager for the standard CubeSat 2U volume which will realise a ground resolution of 10m over a swath of 32km wide from a distance of 500km. This means we will fit a camera into a box the size of two hands put together with a weight of 1.35kg which can recognize an object as small as a bus from 500km away,” says Duncan Stanton, CEO of Space Advisory Company (SAC).
“This camera is configured to store up to 160GB of data onboard in either the RGB, Multispectral or Hyperspectral format with a multitude of potential applications such as enabling food security programs through crop monitoring and bio-mass classification, mining and prospecting, fire detection and infrastructure monitoring.
“Our Chameleon Imager is a highly capable and configurable system – hence the name – which draws heritage from both the space-proven operational Gecko Imager plus the hardware developed by us for the Netherlands-China Low Frequency Explorer (NCLE) currently on board the Change’4 satellite orbiting the low gravity Second Earth-Moon Lagrange Point (E-M L2) some 60 – 80,000 kilometres beyond the moon,” says Duncan.
Duncan is no less proud of his team of satellite engineers and specialists which he describes as world-class with the ability to rapidly innovate, respond to client and technology changes and deliver quality operational systems within tight time frames.
“The ability to put together a high-performance spaceborne payload in less than 6 months, can be attributed to the honed skills of the SAC engineers comfortable with working on ambitious deadlines. Having tailored our systems engineering methodology with designed digital modular building blocks we are now flexible enough to adapt rapidly to evolutions in the small satellite industry,” says Kannas Wiid, product engineer of the Gecko Imager at Space Advisory Company.
The Gecko Imager won a prestigious innovation award at the 2017 Da Vinci Top Technology (TT100) Awards, South Africa’s foremost technology innovation awards, with SAC being finalists in all of the qualifying categories and also a winner in the management of systems category. In addition, they were ranked in the Top 3 of the prestigious 2018 Innovation League Awards, for medium enterprises within South Africa.
The company’s first in-house spaceborne hyperspectral imager, initially developed with support from the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI), had been delivered to SCS-Space by SAC during 2017 for testing and calibration in SCS-Space’s recently commissioned facility. “A final and crucial link in the chain has been added by SCS-Space, this means that essential facilities required during design, development, integration and testing are available within the SCS Aerospace Group”, said Daniel van Niekerk, COO at Space Advisory Company. “Having the major critical components, supply chain and facilities locally within South Africa, ensures that we can deliver cutting edge technology, such as the Hyperspectral Chameleon Imager, to the local and international market”.
The company also states that the environmental constraints imposed on the in-house designed systems ensure that they will survive the harsh effects of vacuum, radiation, heat and vibration encountered en-route and in space. With an internal design philosophy focussed on modularity, quality, high-performance, volume constrained systems their products are also suitable to opportunities closer to Earth on High Altitude Aerial Platforms such as UAVs/Drones or basically any area where remote observation is required.
The company is part of the SCS Aerospace Group (SCSAG) of three which consists of Space Advisory Company (SAC) providing innovative satellite programme and systems products, engineering consultancy and training solutions; SCS Space which provides satellite mission solutions as well as satellite systems; and NewSpace Systems which develops and manufactures high-quality space components and sub-systems. The group employs some 90 highly trained satellite specialists including electronic, systems, software and mechanical engineers.