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ZACUBE-1 launch makes history

img-zacubeThis November the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) has made history with the launch of South Africa’s first CubeSat, a type of nanosatellite, ZACUBE-1

Measuring 10x10x10cm and weighing 1.2kg, this CubeSat is about 100 times smaller than Sputnik, the first satellite launched into space in 1957.

CubeSats are the smallest type of satellites available on the market and were originally developed in 1999 by California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University in the US in order to help universities worldwide to perform space science and exploration.

ZACUBE-1 was designed and built by postgraduate students following the CubeSat Programme at the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA).

The CubeSat was launched from Yasny Launch Base in Russia and placed in orbit at an altitude of 600km.

Running on the same amount of power as a 5-Watt bulb, ZACUBE-1 will orbit Earth up to 15 times a day and its main mission will be to gather data on space weather for SANSA.

In a message engraved on the CubeSat, SANSA CEO, Dr Sandile Malinga says ZACUBE-1 “is certain to inspire a large transformation of our space technologies and education”.

F’SATI is at the forefront of developing the human skills capacity in satellite development for South Africa and the rest of the African continent. The programme is supported and funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

Director of F’SATI, Prof Robert Van Zyl, says the strength of the CubeSat Programme is its utilisation of CubeSats as technology platforms for practical, hands-on skills training and applied research.

“This approach offers our students a unique learning experience and prepares them very well to participate in the South African space industry,” he says.

Over a period of just three-years, the ZACUBE-1 programme has graduated 22 Master’s students and the mission has also contributed to 10 conference papers, 3 scientific journal papers, the development of the African Space Innovation Centre and a Research Chair.

The team at CPUT is already busy developing ZACUBE-2, which will be three times larger than the first.

This initiative is funded by the Department of Science and Technology, the South African National Space Agency, National Research Foundation and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The satellite was launched on 21 November 2013 at 9:10 SA time and made its first overpass shortly after.

ZACUBE-1 facts

  • Africa’s 1st CubeSat
  • Weighs 1.2kg and measures 10x10x10cm
  • Is about 100 times smaller than the first satellite launched to space
  • Took 18 months to build and 30 000 hours of manpower
  • 40 postgraduate involved in the F’SATI CubeSat Programme were involved in building ZACUBE-1
  • It runs on the same amount of power of a 5-Watt bulb
  • Will be placed in orbit at an altitude of 600km
  • Will orbit the earth 15 times a day
  • Contains 4 000 electronic components and 1 computer
  • Will collect space weather data for the South African National Space Agency’s Directorate in Hermanus
  • 7 Antennas spread over 100sqm area in Hermanus will receive the beacon payload signal
  • 6 meter long antennas at the Ground Control Station at CPUT’s Bellville Campus will track the satellite, collect the data and command it

More about the French South African Institute of Technology

The South Africa Space Industry requires specialised skills and with the lack of space professionals and engineers in this field, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and National Research Foundation (NRF) decided to start a human capital development drive.

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology, under its French South African Institute of Technology programme introduced a Master’s Degree in Engineering Science, which is funded by the DST and support by the NRF.

In this programme, students are taught engineering principles using CubeSat as a training tool. CubeSats use the same engineering principles as any big or small satellite. There are currently more than 40 CubeSat programmes around the world.

CubeSat has been proven to be an affordable satellite platform, which makes it particularly accessible to universities.

F’SATI is located on the CPUT Bellville Campus.