South Africa’s Sumbandila microsatellite (SumbandilaSat) is now in commission and is being operated by the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on behalf of the Department of Science and Technology.
“Things are going very well,” SAC manager Raoul Hodges told Engineering News Online on Tuesday.
“We track the satellite every day, twice a day. It is working very well.”
This is despite the fact that, since it was launched by the Russians from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last September, the R26-million, 81-kg, microsatellite has suffered from a number of problems.
These have been caused by the severe radiation encountered by the spacecraft – which is intended as a prototype for future South African satellites and so does not have any back-up systems – in its 500 km high, circular, low-Earth orbit.
The key problem appears to be a power distribution system failure. One result of this failure is that mission control has lost access to the control board of one of the two charge coupled devices (CCD) which lie at the focal plane of SumbandilaSat’s main sensor, a 6,25-m x 6,25-m resolution six-band multispectral imager. Each CCD covers three bands. The one that has been lost covered the green, xanthophyll and blue spectral bands. Fortunately, the remaining CCD covers the more-important red, red-edge and near-infrared spectral bands.
“We’re fairly surprised with the quality of the [imagery] data we are receiving, despite being from only three bands,” stated Hodges. “We are processing data every day. The resolution is good. It is being placed in our archive and the people who need it can access it.”
“There have been no further failures in the satellite systems,” he assured.
“All the necessary software to operate the satellite has been handed over to us. SunSpace was contracted to write additional control software to make the satellite more user-friendly. They have done so and have handed it over to us.”
Sun Space & Information Systems is the Stellenbosch-based company which designed and built Sumbandila and the imager that is its main payload.