South Africa's current Earth observation satellite programme, presently known as EO-Sat1, is still not fully funded, South African National Space Agency (Sansa) executive director for the space programme, Amal Khatri, told Engineering News Online.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the Sansa Space for National Development conference at its Hartebeesthoek (Space Operations) facility, west of Pretoria, on Wednesday.
"The satellite itself is only one component of a space system," he pointed out. "The other components are a ground segment and a data segment. And then there is the launch. We still need full funding for the whole system."
The ground segment comprises mission control (including telemetry) and tracking and data reception. Sansa will have to build a new X-band antenna for EO-Sat1. The data segment will manage the raw data from the satellite and correct (eliminate distortions in) the images received from it.
"Launches are expensive," he observed. "You need between R300-million and R400-million to launch a satellite. However, the launch is not Sansa's responsibility. It would be managed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST)."
The satellite development, assembly and test process is also not yet fully funded. The assembly, integration and testing of the new satellite will have to be done at Denel's Houwteq facility at Grabouw in the Western Cape.
"Houwteq was built in the 1980s and its technology is old," noted Khatri. "We must upgrade it. But currently there is no funding to upgrade it. We're trying to source some funding from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) under the Critical Infrastructure Funding programme, which would give us 50% of the funding required."
Sansa's space engineering directorate, which falls under Khatri, is responsible for the management and oversight of the EO-Sat1 programme, from its very start to the delivery of the flight model (the operational satellite). The actual construction of the satellite is contracted out to Denel Dynamics Spaceteq.
"We're approaching the preliminary design review (PDR). This is a key milestone," he reported. "The PDR is about 80% finished. The remaining 20% is the primary payload, the imager, which is still under design. That should be finished within three months."
The PDR will be followed by the critical design phase. This includes the design of the satellite's sub-systems.
"What is unique about this satellite is that it will be the first truly operational satellite designed and developed in South Africa," highlighted Khatri. (The country's previous satellites were really technology demonstrators.) "It will have systems redundancy."
In many cases, this redundancy is being achieved by employing an overseas-sourced, space-qualified system or component (for example, a reaction wheel) and, in parallel, fitting the same system or component, but manufactured in South Africa. Thus, not only will redundancy be achieved, but South African systems will be space-qualified with little risk to the programme.
"Once the investment has been made in the research and development to build a satellite, it becomes much cheaper to build a second and third satellite, provided they are identical to the first," he observed. "The cost savings can be up to 50% in each case."
Indeed, Sansa intends that EO-Sat1 will only be the first craft in an ongoing space mission. Funding permitting, the plan is to follow it with an EO-Sat2, an EO-Sat3 and so on, representing further space missions to meet the country's needs.