SA's satellite ambitions no flight of fancy

South Africa’s satellite capabilities are due for an unprecedented boost. (Supplied)

South Africa’s satellite capabilities are due for an unprecedented boost. (Supplied)

South Africa’s satellite capabilities are due for an unprecedented boost following the awarding of a Research Chair in Innovative Small Satellite Technology and Applications for Africa to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

This Chair is headed by Professor Norman Fitz-Coy, who is noted for his work in this field at the University of Florida’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Fitz-Coy’s leadership will kick off later this year.

CPUT already has satellite and space engineering capabilities through its French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) programme, which launched its first CubeSat in November last year. This was achieved in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the Department of Science and Technology. The satellite, which measures only 10 cubic centimeters, is designed to send back data on the ionosphere that will help to improve our understanding of the Sun’s interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field.

Small satellites hold great potential to deliver valuable information to the country’s climatology, human and research science communities and are approaching a point at which they can be deployed at far lower cost than conventional, multi-purpose satellites.

Fitz-Coy says: “My aim through the Chair is to build local space engineering skills that will benefit organisations such as SANSA. I believe this will make a significant contribution to enabling South Africa to develop, deploy and operate such satellites for its own account. The creation of a local pool of skills is critical to supporting the country’s ambitions of establishing a viable Earth observation industry.”

He says that his involvement at CPUT will be not only to develop local skills, but also to create a cross-pollination of expertise with the teams he is working with in the United States.

Through his ongoing partnerships and relationships with US industry, government and academia, he plans to develop meaningful and long lasting relationships with space scientists and technologists in the US and South Africa.

Such strategic partnerships, collaboration and networking will be of considerable benefit to the local industry and the country’s aspirations to contribute in this exciting new field of small satellite technology and applications.