South Africa was expected to launch three maritime-focused “nano satellites” into orbit on Thursday afternoon.
The three nano satellites, the first to be entirely developed on the African continent, were scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral in the US on a SpaceX rocket at about 5.25pm SAST.
The three satellites form part of the department of science & innovation’s 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”.
Minister of higher education, science & innovation Blade Nzimande described the launch of the satellites as a significant milestone for the country.
Nzimande said that although South Africa is making strides in the space industry, specialised skills are needed to take it forward.
The department has developed a human capital development programme based at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Called the cube satellite (CubeSat) programme, it 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,” Nzimande said.