Russia, India and the United States of America have usually hogged the headlines when it came to talk of space-trips and satellites. South Africa now charges into the conversation with the launch of two nano-satellites from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida, USA. SA Science students contributed their sophisticated satellite designs toward the batch of 28 ‘CubeSats’ which were launched on 18 April 2017.
Both the ‘nSight1’ and ‘ZA-AeroSat’ were designed and manufactured by South African teams. The respective creators, SCS Space and CubeSpace, are based in the Western Cape and include students from Stellenbosch University. Also worthy of note, is the fact that Cape-Town based SCS Space is a member of the Space Commercial Services Aerospace Group: a leading small satellite programme partner.
Thanks to advancements in nanotechnology, satellites are becoming ever smaller, allowing for an increased number of units to be launched into orbit at once. In addition to the quantity capacity during launches, smaller satellites also mean that the material is more easily discarded once the satellite has served its purpose. With smaller components, the satellites have a higher surface area ratio, resulting in a higher burn-out upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
So, with a nifty new look, and the relief of leaving little to no debris, the nano-satellites which were launched from Cape Canaveral set course for the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS crew eagerly await the arrival of the payload in order to deploy the units into low-earth orbit with the help of robotic arms. The ideal deployment of all units from the 23 participating countries would take place over 30-60 days as the ISS itself orbits Earth.
“We are proud to be a part of an international space project of this magnitude. It affords us the opportunity to test the next-generation space camera technology which was uniquely developed by SCS Space and partners within industry development initiatives of the South African Department of Trade and Industry,” says Hendrik Burger, CEO of SCS Space.
No larger than the size of an average shoe box, the South African nano-satellites are packed with some of the world’s most advanced and complex technologies. The ‘nSight1’ in particular, has an important role to play for research at both a national and international level; it will present an opportunity to test a newly created SCS Gecko Imager as well as a coding technique. The coding technique is a Radiation Mitigation technique which has been patented by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.
Having already spent just over a month on duty, South Africa’s nano-satellites constantly record a number of factors within Earth’s lower thermosphere (200-380km above sea level). In the nearly 17 months left to go, the data these powerful cubes collect will assist in optimising safe re-entry routes for spacecraft as well as environmental monitor points (air pressure, temperature and more).