Maritime Domain Awareness Satellite constellation satellites due for launch


South Africa is scheduled to launch three locally manufactured cube satellites that form part of a new maritime domain awareness (MDA) system.

The satellites, manufactured and developed by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), are due to be launched by a Falcon 9 rocket in the afternoon of 13 January, with the rocket taking off from Cape Canaveral in the United States.

The full MDASat constellation will be an operational constellation of nine cube satellites that will detect, identify and monitor vessels in near real-time.

CPUT said the MDASat constellation has two main priorities: namely ocean economy and healthcare and has been mandated by the Department of Science and Innovation to enhance South Africa’s ocean’s sovereignty.

MDASat is CPUT’s third satellite mission and follows on from ZACube-1 (TshepisoSat) and ZACube-2’s successful development, launch and operation.

“This mission would mark the first constellation of satellites developed and designed in Africa,” said CPUT’s Acting Chief Engineer on the project Nyameko Royi. The more we get people involved in space the better, the more data we extract from space- the better for the world. This is a significant milestone for CPUT and South Africa.”

The first three satellites of the MDA constellation will carry an upgraded AIS receiver payload from ZACube-2, which was launched from Russia in December 2018 aboard a Soyuz rocket. ZACube-2 demonstrated ship tracking and medium resolution payload technologies. The satellite is managed by the Department of Science and Innovation and Sansa, in co-operation with the University of Montpellier, the French embassy and the Paris Chamber of Commerce.

The MDASat constellation will be used by the Department of Science and Innovation and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries as part of government’s Operation Phakisa.

The Department of Science and Innovation recently announced an additional investment of about R19 million in the development of two nanosatellites (M2MSat-1) for increased maritime domain awareness in South Africa. The M2MSat-1 will build on the technology of MDASat-1 and will be developed by CPUT and local company Stone Three Communications.