The three maritime-focussed nanosatellites launched to “detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time in support of South African maritime domain awareness”.
Cape Canaveral, USA (14 January 2022) – In a first for the African continent, South Africa launched three maritime-focussed nanosatellites into orbit on Thursday afternoon.
The three nanosatellites – the first to be entirely developed on the African continent – launched from Cape Canaveral in the United States at about 5:25 pm.
The three satellites form part of the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite (MDASat) constellation. When complete, the constellation will comprise of nine satellites which, according to the department, will “detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time in support of South African maritime domain awareness”.
South Africa is a maritime nation whose economy and security are derived from the safe, unhindered and free passage of shipping. Its dependency on seaborne imports and exports for almost all its trade has led many to describe it as an ‘island economy’. South Africa occupies a unique geostrategic location astride one of the world’s key shipping routes. The extent of South Africa’s maritime zones also places the enormous scale of the country’s maritime domain awareness (MDA) task in context. Shipping movements are extensive through these substantial areas. MDA is an important enabler for South Africa’s security and for the protection of its waters and maritime interests beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone. Greater numbers of ships, larger protected areas at sea requiring protection, increasing maritime insecurity, and a growing reliance on shipping mean that states such as South Africa must prioritise and improve maritime security.
The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) has invested R27-million over three years in the development of the MDASat constellation. The DSI is implementing this work through the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), says Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande.
Nzimande described the launch of the constellation satellite as a significant milestone for the country.
“This will further cement South Africa’s position as an African leader in small satellite development, and help the country to capture a valuable share of a niche market in the fast-growing global satellite value chain.”
Nzimande added that although South Africa is making strides in the space industry, specialised skills are needed to take it forward.
He said the department has developed a human capital development programme based at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, called the cube satellite (CubeSat) programme, which seeks to remedy the lack of professionals and skills in the industry.
“As part of this programme, students are taught engineering principles using CubeSats as training tools. CubeSats are built using the same engineering principles as any other satellite; hence highly specialised and advanced skills are acquired through this programme,” he said.