The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) has invested R18.9-million in the development of two nanosatellites that will be used to improve maritime domain awareness in South Africa.
The investment is the first initiative in the country to provide satellite communication services to the maritime industry.
The funding was channelled through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an entity of the DSI, to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), an institution that is playing a role in growing space science and technology in South Africa. The university has developed cutting-edge nanosatellites and cube satellites (CubeSats) over the years, demonstrating advanced technological capabilities in the country's space industry.
Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande, in a statement released on March 25, disclosed that the two maritime industry nanosatellites would be powered by M2MSat technology, in the form of cutting-edge very high-definition Data Exchange System (VDES) software-defined radios for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
He further stated that a software-defined radio (SDR) system uses software for the modulation and demodulation of radio signals, performing significant amounts of signal processing in a general-purpose computer. The technology brings flexibility, cost-efficiency and power to drive communications forward, with wide-reaching benefits.
“South Africa needs a more strategic and coordinated approach to ensure optimal surveillance of the waters off its coast, including shipping movements within the country's exclusive economic zone. [It] will promote improved maritime domain awareness and enhanced maritime security,” Nzimande said.
The SDR technology will provide emerging M2M and Internet of Things applications capable of delivering complex analytics and ubiquitous positioning of high-value assets, as well as mission-critical services, at a lower cost than the deployment of traditional satellite systems.
Developed as a collaboration between CPUT and local company Stone Three Communications, the M2MSat technology advances the state of the art in space innovation, significantly improving on the technology onboard CPUT's ZACube-2 nanosatellite, which was launched in 2018.
“In the South African context, the space industry ecosystem, including supporting space engineering programmes, human capacity development, infrastructure investments and technological innovations is part of the high-end infrastructure sectors that are critical to the country's economic recovery,” said Nzimande.
The development and commercialisation of the M2MSat platform will position South Africa as a key contributor of innovation in the space sector globally, feeding into the space value chain, growing partnerships with industry and fast-tracking the creation and exploitation of space knowledge and innovation, DSI pointed out.
Meanwhile, plans are also under way to develop Denel’s Overberg Test Range, in the Western Cape, as a facility to launch future CubeSats developed by the CPUT.
Earlier this month, researchers and students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Aerospace Systems Research Group successfully launched two hybrid rockets as part of the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme.
One of the test rockets travelled 17.9 km into the air, achieving a new African hybrid rocket altitude record. The second rocket made more than 10 km altitude with a payload from CPUT.