Cape Peninsula University of Technology launches South Africa’s first cube satellite


The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) is set to make history with the launch of South Africa’s first CubeSat, a type of nano-satellite, ZACUBE-1.

The launch is set for 21 November 2013 at 09:10:11 (South African Time), atop an RS-2OB rocket (Dnepr) at the Yasny launch base in Russia.

Running on the same amount of the power as a 5-watt bulb, ZACUBE-1 carries a high-frequency beacon that will be used to study the propagation of radio waves through the ionosphere, providing valuable space weather data to the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) Space Science Directorate. It will orbit Earth up to 15 times a day at an altitude of 600km.

Funded by the Department of Science and Technology, the satellite was designed and built by postgraduate students following the CubeSat Programme at the French South African Institute of Technology (F’SATI) at CPUT, in collaboration with SANSA.
The satellite is a single unit carrying a space weather experiment. It is designated “ZA-003” in the national register of space asset, proudly following in the footsteps of Sunsat and SumbandilaSat.

Measuring only 10x10x10 cm and weighing 1.2 kg, this satellite is about 100 times smaller than Sputnik 1, the first satellite launched into space in 1957. CubeSats were originally developed in 1999 by California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University in the United States to help universities worldwide to perform space science and exploration.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Derek Hanekom said South Africa was gradually demonstrating its capabilities in space science and technology.

“The launch of this CubeSat today is proof of the skills and the facilities we are gradually developing in the country to ensure space science and technology really benefit every citizen of South Africa,” said Minister Hanekom, adding that the data would be valuable to related research.

The Director of F’SATI, Prof. Robert van Zyl, said the strength of the satellite programme is its use of CubeSats as technology platforms for practical, hands-on skills training and applied research. “This approach offers students a unique learning experience and prepares them very well to participate in the South African space industry.”

F’SATI is at the forefront of developing human skills in satellite engineering for South Africa and the rest of Africa. Established in 2009, the CubeSat Programme has graduated 32 master’s students, bringing to 42 the total number of F’SATI alumni at CPUT. The programme has also provided internships to 15 of the graduates as engineers-in-training.


Vaneshree Maharaj