Russian space agency Roscosmos, which is planning to launch South Africa’s Sumbandila microsatellite (SumbandilaSat) in mid-September, is eager to use this as a basis to develop further cooperation with this country and help South Africa develop its space industry and space programme.
The agency states that it is willing to offer a wide range of technologies and services to the South African space programme and for the development of the local space industry.
The Russians appear to be particularly keen on the African Resources Management (ARM) microsatellite constellation project. ARM is being jointly developed by South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria, and the microsatellites developed for this project would need to be launched into space.
The Russian space agency is also interested in assisting in the development of a possible micro- satellite constellation for Southern African Development Community countries. This might be one of the topics discussed at the next meeting of the South Africa/Russia Joint Intergovernmental Committee for Economic Cooperation, which will take place in South Africa in September or October.
Roscosmos points out that it is the world’s leading supplier of satellite launch services. Last year, it executed 27 launches, all of which were successful, which put 43 satellites of various sizes into orbit. The US undertook 15 launches, of which one failed, orbiting 18 satellites, while China carried out 11 launches and orbited 15 satellites, and the European Space Agency (ESA) had six launches and put 11 satellites into orbit.
In 2007, Russia had 26 launches and orbited 48 satellites, the US had 19 launches and orbited 29 satellites, China had 10 launches with 11 satellites reaching orbit, and the ESA executed 6 launches and put 12 satellites into orbit.
Roscosmos has scheduled the launch of SumbandilaSat for September 15. The South African spacecraft has been designed and built by specialist micro- satellite company SunSpace & Information Systems, which is based in Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape. It is an 81-kg earth observation microsatellite; sumbandila means ‘lead the way’ in the Venda language. It is based on a new satellite platform developed by SunSpace. The microsatellite’s main payload is a 6,25-m multispectral imager – that is, the imager has a resolution of 6,25 m × 6,25 m. This imager was also designed, developed, and made by SunSpace.
SumbandilaSat will be one of six microsatellites launched on a Soyuz-2 rocket, along with the primary payload of a Russian Meteor M weather satellite. The Meteor M has a mass of 2 700 kg and is the first of a new generation of Russian meteorological satellites, equipped with new instruments. It is believed that these new systems required extra testing and evaluation, thus delaying a launch that had originally be planned for March. Then it was delayed to May, and then to August, and now to September. However, the Meteor M has passed all its tests and is now at the launch site, the Baikonur cosmodrome.
Originally, the plan was that the South African microsatellite would be launched in 2007 by the Russian Ministry of Defence on a Shtil rocket, from a Russian Navy missile submarine. That deal fell through and Russia’s civilian space agency, Roscosmos, offered a land-based launch instead, at no extra cost.
The other five microsatel- lites that will accompany SumbandilaSat into space are designated Blits, Iris, Sterkh-2, Tatiana-2 and UgatuSat. Blits is a specialised nanosatellite – a sphere with a mass of just 7,53 kg – which will serve as a target and reflector for laser beams, both to test the concept and the materials involved, and to obtain measurements required by various scientific experiments.
Sterkh-2, also known as Cospas-12, is part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided System (known as Cospas-Sarsat, the former being the Russian acronym and the latter the English one), and follows Sterkh-1, both replacing Russia’s Nadezhda-series satellites. As the Sterkh-series does not, unlike the Nadezhdas, supply navigation services (now the responsibility of the Glonass system, which is Russia’s GPS), they can be much smaller than their predecessors.
Tatiana-2, also known as Universitetsky-2, is a technology microsatellite developed by students of the Moscow State University. UgatuSat is an earth observation microsatellite with a mass of only 30 kg, and was developed by Russia’s Ufa State Aviation Technical University. No details are available on Iris.