South African missile and unmanned air vehicle (UAV) company Denel Dynamics unveiled, on Wednesday afternoon, its DynaCube Cubesat. A Cubesat is a nano satellite with dimensions of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm.
The project was the responsibility for the company's 2012 class of interns. "Each year, we recruit graduate engineers and allocate them a project," explained Denel Dynamics Engineering Academy of Learning manager Shahen Naidoo. "We started this approach about three years ago. Previous intern projects included a UAV, a guided mortar bomb and a hexacopter [a UAV helicopter with six sets of rotors]."
The programme has involved 20 interns organised in three teams. One team was responsible for the design, integration and assembly of the ground station and for the antennas of the Cubesat. Another team was responsible for the structure and payload of the Cubesat itself, while the third team was responsible for the Cubesat sensors and for investigating and analysing launch options. The DynaCube is composed of a mixture of purchased components and components designed and built by the interns themselves. Intern projects are run over 12 months, from January to December.
"With Denel Dynamics looking at getting into space engineering we thought it an ideal opportunity to get our interns to grow skills in this area and a Cubesat is an ideal opportunity to develop these skills," he said. "I must stress that the idea is that they learn engineering skills and we have used the Cubesat as a means to do that. These interns will not necessarily become satellite engineers. They will become design engineers."
The individual components of the DynaCube have all completed testing and are now being integrated, onto a test rig known as the FlatSat, for ease of system testing and fault finding. Thereafter, they will be integrated into the actual Cubesat structure and then tested again as a whole. Two DynaCubes will be assembled, one for space and one to remain on Earth as a test system, for helping develop "workarounds" for any faults that develop on the flying model.
The interns are eager to continue to work on the project next year, even though they will have finished their internships. Most are even willing to do so in their spare time, if need be. However, it is hoped that the company will give them some of its time to complete the project. "The company definitely wants it finished and wants it launched," assured Naidoo. "We want it finished before the middle of next year. But it could take up to a year, or more, to get a launch date. That is out of our control."
The DynaCube has a scientific mission, to use radiation sensors to study a phenomenon known as the South Atlantic Anomaly, where radiation levels are higher than over the rest of the globe at low Earth orbit altitudes. It is believed that it was high radiation levels in the Anomaly that crippled South Africa's Sumbandila satellite. It is hoped that, once launched, DynaCube would be able to operate for at least a year.
A number of launch options are under consideration. In all cases, the Cubesat would be launched as a secondary payload. American, Indian or Russian rockets could be used. The lowest cost for such a launch would be $1-million (not including the cost of DynaCube itself). The company cannot afford this itself. Options under consideration are to approach the Department of Science and Technology, and/or the Department of Trade and Industry and/or the Department of Defence, or appealing to the public for "crowd funding" through the Internet.