The department of science and innovation (DST) is investing millions into what is considered to be the first and the biggest initiative to provide communication services to the maritime industry in the country.
Estimated to be around R18, 9 million the investment involves the development of two nanosatellites which will increase maritime domain awareness in South Africa. The country has prioritised ocean economy as one of the critical areas through which it can leverage the growth potential of the coastal and maritime areas.
The funding was channelled through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an entity of the DSI, to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). The institution has identified space science and technology as one of its seven strategic research focus areas.
Since then it has been playing a pivotal role in developing and growing space science and related technologies in South Africa. To date, the university has developed ground-breaking nanosatellites and cube satellites (CubeSats) over the years, demonstrating advanced capabilities in the country’s space industry.
Experts in the sector say the country needs a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to ensure optimal surveillance of the waters off its coast, including shipping movements within the country’s exclusive and strategic economic zone. It is anticipated that the nanosatellites will enormously improve maritime domain awareness and enhance maritime security.
According to the DST, the two maritime industry nano-satellites will be powered by “M2MSat” technology, in the form of cutting-edge VHD Data Exchange System (VDES) software-defined radios for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
A software-defined radio (SDR) system, said the department, uses software for the modulation and demodulation of radio signals, performing significant amounts of signal processing in a general-purpose computer. The technology brings flexibility, cost-efficiency and power to drive communications forward, with wide-reaching benefits.
The DST further explained that the innovative SDR technology will provide emerging M2M and Internet of things applications. These will enable it to deliver a range of functions such as the capability to deliver complex analytics and ubiquitous positioning of high-value assets, as well as mission-critical services, at a lower cost than the deployment of traditional satellite systems.
The M2MSat technology, which is a product of collaboration between CPUT and local company Stone Three Communications, advances the state of the art in space innovation, said DST. The technology significantly improves on the technology on-board CPUT’s ZACube-2 nanosatellite, which was launched in 2018.
In the South African context, the space industry ecosystem is part of the high-end infrastructure sectors that have been targeted to kick-start the country’s economic recovery. These include other sectors such as supporting space engineering programmes, human capacity development, infrastructure investments and technological innovations.
The development and commercialisation of the M2MSat platform will position South Africa as a key contributor of innovation in the space sector globally, added the DST. This fits in well into the space value chain, growing partnerships with industry, and fast-tracking the creation and exploitation of space knowledge and innovation.
DST further indicated that plans are also afoot to develop Denel’s Overberg Test Range (OTR) in the Western Cape as a facility to launch future CubeSats developed by the CPUT. Already the OTR has proven the capacity to function as a launch pad, said the department.
This comes on the back of the recent successful launch by the researchers and students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Aerospace Systems Research Group. The launch involved two hybrid rockets as part of the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme. The test rockets travelled 17, 9 km into the air achieving a new African hybrid rocket altitude record.
The successful feat significantly boosted the South African engineering and the development of African satellite rocket launch capability. The second rocket made more than 10 km altitude with a payload from CPUT.