Oct 12, 2012

South Africa considering investing R450m in new satellite

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The Department of Science and Tech- nology (DST) has reported that South Africa is considering constructing a 250 kg to 400 kg earth observation micro- satellite, as the country’s contribution to the proposed African Resource and Envi- ronmental Management Satellite Constella- tion (ARMC). This was revealed in a recent written answer to a Parliamentary question. “This would entail a satellite development programme of four and [a] half years, building on the experience of the sub- systems developed for the SumbandilaSat mission,” stated the DST in its answer. “The full programme costs for such a satellite would be R450-million and will be sourced from the national fiscus.” The proposed new satellite would operate from a low earth orbit and would have a planned life span of seven years.

“Government, through the DST and its agency, the South African National Space Agency (Sansa), will take the lead in managing South Africa’s interest in the ARMC,” affirmed the DST. The ARMC programme has “a focus on human capital development (HCD) through joint local development and implementation” of the satellite constellation. “The scope of the cooperation includes know-how and technology transfer by way of HCD, the potential sharing of assets (satellites), ground-based assets (ground stations), as well as the data generated by the satellites for mutual benefit.” The ARMC project was launched, on paper, in December 2009 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Algeria, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. It is hoped that the ARMC will be composed of at least three low earth orbit imaging satellites.

“Apart from the development of a world-class satellite, the other main benefit of the ARMC will be the supply of high-resolution image data regularly enough for African remote sensing scientists to extract more temporal facts about environmental changes on the African continent and thereby lay the basis for indigenous African environmental, climate change and disaster monitoring and management systems,” explained the DST. “The satellite is expected to serve the environmental decision-making needs of the South African government.”

Sansa’s first earth observation microsatellite, Sumbandila (also referred to as SumbandilaSat), designed and built in South Africa by local company Sun Space & Information Systems, failed last year. This means that the country currently has no operational earth observation satellite. However, both Algeria and Nigeria do have operational imaging microsatellites.

Algeria currently operates Alsat-2A, designed and built by European space company Astrium. Alsat-2A is based on the AstroSat100 design, developed jointly by Astrium and the French space agency CNES. It was launched in July 2010 by an Indian rocket. As part of the programme, more than 20 Algerian engineers spent three years with Astrium in Toulouse, France, being trained in space engineering, satellite integration and systems operation. They now form the core of the Algerian Space Agency’s operations team and will be in charge of the assembly and integration of the Alsat-2B microsatellite, which will take place in Algeria.

Alsat-2A replaced Alsat-1, an SSTL-100 microsatellite designed and built by UK company Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). Designed to operate for five years, it lasted seven years and nine months, when it was decommissioned after the launch of its replacement. Eleven Algerian scientists and engineers were trained in the UK by SSTL and participated in the manufacture and preflight testing of Alsat-1.

Nigeria has the NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X earth observation microsatellites in operation. Although both Nigerian satellites were designed and built in the UK by SSTL, NigeriaSat-X was actually assembled at SSTL by Nigerian engineers and technicians. These two satellites replaced NigeriaSat-1, which was also an SSTL product, and which, with a design life of five years, actually operated for eight years before being retired, following the launch of its replacements. NigeriaSat-1 and NigeriaSat-X are both SSTL-100s, while NigeriaSat-2 is an SSTL-300 satellite. (Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency also owns and operates the Chinese-designed and -built NigComSat-1r communications satellite.)

Algeria and Nigeria are already members of the international Disaster Management Constellation (DMC), which is coordinated by SSTL. The other members of the DMC are China, Spain, Turkey and the UK. Each country owns and operates its own satellite, but can access imagery from all of them. (SSTL is now an autonomous subsidiary of Astrium, 99% held by the European company, itself part of the EADS group, and 1% by the University of Surrey.)
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu

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