Science and innovation on launch of South African nanosatellite constellation

satellites 13 JanIn a first for South Africa's space industry, three locally produced nanosatellites were launched into space on 13 January at 17:25 South African time

The first Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite constellation (MDASat-1) was launched as part of US aerospace company SpaceX's Transporter-3 mission.

South Africa's satellites were launched aboard US aerospace company SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket as a ‘rideshare payload’ of the company's Transporter-3 (or ISI Launch 36P) mission, and were deployed in low Earth orbit at an altitude of 525 kilometres. Transporter-3, SpaceX's third dedicated rideshare mission, were carrying a total of 105 spacecraft, including CubeSats, microsats, PocketQubes and orbital transfer vehicles.

The MDASat-1 launch is a significant milestone for South Africa, marking the first launch of a satellite constellation developed entirely on the African continent.

Welcoming the event, the minister of higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, said the Department of Science and Innovation's (DSI's) funding and support of South Africa's satellite construction industry was reaping rewards. “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,” said Dr Nzimande.

The launch of the first three satellites of the MDASat constellation follows three years after the launch of the most advanced South African nanosatellite to date, ZACube 2, as a technology demonstrator for the MDASat constellation.

“As part of this programme, students are taught engineering principles using CubeSats as training tools,” Dr Nzimande said. “CubeSats are built using the same engineering principles as any other satellite, hence highly specialised and advanced skills are acquired through this programme.”

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