The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) has learnt valuable lessons from the Sumbandila micro satellite programme. Sumbandila failed last year after operating in space for less than two years, a shorter time than hoped for.
"Sumbandila was an experiment in using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components. In many respects it was a success," Sansa space programme manager Francois Denner told Engineering News Online on Thursday. "We now have a space heritage in COTS components instead of having to use very expensive space-certified components."
The satellite's failure was owing to especially severe radiation, found in a region known as the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly. "This is a challenge for South Africa, which sits in the anomaly. We want our satellites switched on when they transit this zone. Other countries can turn theirs off," thereby protecting them from the intense radiation of the anomaly. This also has been a lesson.
"A facility that we have identified as a critical requirement is a radiation testing facility," he stated.
Another important lesson was the need to develop applications for satellites from the very beginning of a programme, and not first put the spacecraft in orbit and then discover there are constraints on what can be done with it.
"Sumbandila also showed we had the technical capacity to develop such a satellite," highlighted Denner.
"We also realised that, through some impressive mission control software innovation, we'll benefit future missions. We were forced to develop some innovative solutions to control system failures on Sumbandila."
Sansa hosted a workshop in Pretoria on Thursday to consolidate the final-user needs for the country's next satellite, currently designated ZA-ARMC1. This will form part of the planned African Resources and Environmental Monitoring Constellation, a project agreed between South Africa, Algeria, Kenya and Nigeria.