South Africa will provide the satellite bus for the first – indeed, probably for both – of the satellites in the recently announced India Brazil South Africa Dialogue Forum (Ibsa) satellite programme. The bus is the term given to the basic spacecraft – that is, the structure and the control, navigation, communications and power systems – on which the actual observation imagers and systems, experiments, transponders, and so on (depend- ing on the type of satellite) are mounted.
“Brazil sees South Africa as an expert in microsatellites,” reveals Stellenbosch Univer-sity electronic engineering professor and South African Ibsa satellite working group member Herman Steyn. “India has big satellites and satellite launch vehicles (SLVs – satellite launching rockets). In principle, it has been agreed that Ibsa satellites will be smaller and cheaper and so more affordable.”
Brazilian experience is also with larger satellites and the country is still seeking to develop its own SLV.
The first of the two satellites will be a scientific craft, aimed at studying space weather, while the second will be an earth observation satellite. The aim is to launch the space weather craft two years from now, followed by the earth observation craft two years after that, or four years from now. Both will be launched by India.
“The Ibsa programme will not get in the way of our own satellite programme,” assures South African National Space Agency acting CEO Dr Sandile Malinga. “This [Ibsa] programme will be run in parallel with our programme.” Over the next few years, South Africa is planning at least one earth observation microsatellite as part of the African resource management constellation programme, now being developed with several other African countries, in addition to the Ibsa satellites.
Space weather is the term given to processes and conditions existing in space which can affect the near-earth environment. These include fluctuations in the solar wind, solar flares, coronal mass ejections (from the sun’s corona), changes in the interplanetary magnetic field and perturbations in the earth’s magnetic field.
“Space weather influences earth weather as well as affecting satellites,” points out Steyn. “The space weather satellite will especially study space weather over the South Atlantic. There is a region there which experiences high levels of solar radiation.”
Although South Africa will build the bus, most of the instruments which it will carry will come from Brazil, which is driving this part of the programme. Still, developing and building this satellite will benefit human capital development and technological development in South Africa.
Further, this country is already involved in space weather observation and research, the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory being this country’s space weather warning centre. “The planned space weather satellite will greatly strengthen our position regarding space weather and will greatly increase our scientific knowledge,” affirms Malinga.
However, South Africa is more interested in the earth observation satellite. This is in part because the country hopes that this will be fitted with the multispectral microsatellite imager (MSMI), developed by Stellenbosch-based Sun Space & Information Systems (SunSpace) in cooperation with the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium.
“This is a combination of a hyperspectral (very narrow band) camera and a multispectral (broad band) camera,” explains Steyn, who is also a consultant to SunSpace. “It has a higher resolution than the imager carried on SumbandilaSat.” “The use of the MSMI is not guaranteed yet, but it is a strong possibility,” adds Malinga.
The creation of the Ibsa satellite programme was announced at the conclusion of the fourth Ibsa summit in Brasília on April 15 by the leaders of the three countries – South African President Jacob Zuma, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Speaking on behalf of the three leaders, Lula da Silva remarked: “[The satellites] will benefit the Ibsa countries and other friendly countries, providing more effect in matters of agriculture, transport and telecommunications. It is a project symbolic of the new stage in our partnership.”
Zuma enthused: “South Africa is especially excited with the Ibsa satellite proposal.”