The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), based in Cape Town, will launch a mini-constellation of three nano satellites into space by the end of 2021.
This mission, called MDASat-1 (Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite), will use data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to monitor the waters off the South African coast for navigation movements in their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
AIS is a radio system used for monitoring maritime traffic, primarily to avoid collisions. Location messages received by satellites from ships on the ocean below are downloaded from the satellite as it passes over the ground station at CPUT.
The development of the MDASat-1 mission is led by a team of 12 engineers from the French South African Institute of Technology (F'SATI). The technical qualification tests have been completed and the team is currently busy assembling the three flight models. Each satellite has an improved version of the AIS receiver.
"MDASat-1 is a major achievement and milestone for CPUT, South Africa and the continent as a whole, not only by providing the government with strategically important vessel tracking data, but also by developing skills and cutting-edge technologies, "said Robert van Zyl, director of the Africa Space Innovation Center, the innovation center of CPUT.
The CPUT has been interested in satellites since 2013, the year in which it launched its first nanosatellite called ZACube-1, followed in 2018 by ZACube-2, used respectively for space weather research and maritime surveillance. Its interest in satellites is in line with the objectives of the new 2020-2025 space strategy, which makes space research a pillar of national development.
Through the MDASat-1 constellation, South Africa will have the capacity and know-how to acquire vital information that will break its reliance on data from foreign companies. The data collected by nanosatellites will be used by the government for better management of its exclusive economic zone, said Robert Van Zyl.
Note that the CPUT is financially supported by the Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation.