Spring 2007 Issue

South Africa’s Latest Satellite

It has been about eight years since South Africa made its entry into the space age, and that by way of SunSat 1, an education project of the University of Stellenbosch. If all goes well, in June South Africa will have its second satellite in orbit, SumbandilaSat, this one also being a university-level education project—with a surprisingly youthful connection.

By Hans van de Groenendaal, ZS6AKV
President, South Africa AMSAT

Soon South Africa will have another voice in the sky when its second satellite, named Sumbandila, is launched in June 2007. The naming of the satellite is an interesting story in itself. A competition was held among high school students. Entries in various languages were received, but ultimately the Venda language version was chosen, Sumbandila. It means showing or pointing the way. Freely translated into English, it is “Pathfinder.”

Sumbandila is a very appropriate name for a satellite that is paving the way for a number of satellites planned for launch over the next few years.

SumbandilaSat is sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology and was built at SunSpace in cooperation with the University of Stellenbosch. The amateur payload offers similar activities to that of SunSat, but implemented in a new, innovative way.
South Africa’s entry into the space age began in 1999 with the launch of SunSat 1, a modest satellite built by students and lecturers at the University of Stellenbosch. The satellite carried various experiments and an amateur radio transponder that delighted radio enthusiasts worldwide. From this modest beginning grew SunSpace (Pty) Ltd., today a successful company involved in the space communications field.

SumbandilaSat Payloads

The main payload is a multi-spectral imager with a 6.5-meter Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) with six spectral bands and will be supported by an on-board storage of 6 gigabytes, expandable to 24 gigabytes. In addition, there are several experimental payloads, including:

• SA AMSAT: A 2m/70cm amateur radio transponder and digitalker.

• Stellenbosch University: A Software Defined Radio (SDR) experiment and an architectural radiation experiment for commercial off-the-shelf devices (ARECOTS).

• Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University: A forced vibrating string experiment.

• University of KwaZulu, Natal: A very-low-frequency (VLF) radio experiment.

The amateur radio payload is operating in conjunction with the University of Stellenbosch Software Defined Receiver project sharing the V/U transponder.

SA AMSAT has designed and built a control system to facilitate the following operations:

• V/U voice transponder with an uplink in the 2-meter band and a downlink in the 70-cm band.

• A parrot repeater (voice digipeater).

• A voice beacon.

Hannes Coetzee, ZS6BPZ, working on the prototype controller. He built two prototype controllers, one for the University of Stellenbosch and one for SA AMSAT to do software testing in Pretoria. This allowed work to be carried out in parallel.

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