What is a CubeSat?

The CubeSat Project is an international collaboration of hundreds universities, high schools, and private companies developing nano-satellites containing scientific, communications, Earth Observation, remote sensing and navigation payloads. A CubeSat is a 10 cm cube with a mass of up to 1.33 kg in its smallest form. Developers benefit from the sharing of information within the community. Resources are available by communicating directly with other developers and attending CubeSat workshops.

from CubeSat.org

Why a CubeSat in SA?

The Department of Science and Technology conducted a space industry capacity survey in 2007. The study revealed that South Africa has a huge space heritage dating as far back as in the early 1950s. South Africa started its space activities by supporting launch activities and receiving satellite data for satellite owned by foreign countries. The study conducted by the DST also revealed a huge shortage of space-related skills. The shortage of engineers and professionals in the space industry was mainly caused by the lack of a clear space programme. The study came to a conclusion that the South African space heritage and skills would be lost if not utilised in the next 5 to10 years.

This study put pressure on Government to sharpen its space industry goals. The South African National Space Agency Act, 36 of 2008, mandated the establishment of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) to provide for the promotion and use of space and cooperation in space-related activities, foster research in space science, advance scientific engineering through human capital and support the creation of an environment conducive to industrial development in space technologies within the framework of national government policy. Also in 2008, the DTI and DST wrote a 10 year Space policy and strategy documents, which also received overwhelming, support from Cabinet and Government in general. All these laws, policy and strategy documents give guidelines to SANSA’s space programme. SANSA was officially launched on 9 December 2010 [http://www.sansa.org].

The space industry requires specialised skills and with the lack of space professionals and engineers in this field, the DST and NRF decided to start a huge human capital development drive. CPUT under its F’SATI programme introduced a Master’s Degree in Engineering Science, which is funded by the DST and support by the NRF.

In this programme, students are taught engineering principles using CubeSat as a training tool. CubeSats use the same engineering principles as any big or small satellite. F’SATI at CPUT unveiled Africa’s first CubeSat in September 2011 and demonstrated its CubeSat Flight Model, dubbed ZACUBE-1, at the 62nd International Astronautical Congress which was held in Cape Town in October 2011.

It was launched on 21 November 2013 and is still operational!