January 2014
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SET career opportunities
SKA boosts education in the Karoo
NanoWriting - the big challenge
Workshopping with nanotechnologists
SKA astronomy workshop in KZN
Learner names first nano-satellite
Matatiele honours its young scientists
Beijing Science Festival
Kimberley invaded by scientists
Meet Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan
Dear Diary ...
Coelacanth discovery anniversary
SAEON recognises best studies
ZooClub participates in rhino debate
Youth entranced by marine life
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It's a fact!

Grade 9 learner names SA's first nano-satellite

 
  Chachane Kgothalang receives her prize for naming South Africa's first CubeSat. From the left are Professor Robert van Zyl, Dr Jabu Nukeri, Managing Director of SAASTA, the winner and Humbulani Mudau, Chief Director: Space Science and Technology at DST.
 
  In a tribute to the late President Nelson Mandela, South Africa's only currently operational satellite, TshepisoSAT has been reprogrammed to transmit the name Madiba as its callsign. The signal can be received by radio amateurs and CubeSat groups worldwide. Starting on 6 December 2013, the tiny spacecraft transmitted Madiba every 30 seconds for the duration of the country's official mourning period for its first black president, revered as the founding father of today's democratic South Africa.
Tshepiso is the chosen name of South Africa's first nano-satellite, code named ZACube-1, which was launched into space from the Yasny launch base in Russia on 21 November last year.

Meaning Promise in Setswana and Sesotho, the name Tshepiso was submitted by Chachane Kgothalang, a grade 9 learner of Bethel Junior Secondary School in Matatiele, Eastern Cape. The winning name was among the entries received in a national competition launched by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and managed by SAASTA.

According to Dr Jabulani Nukeri, MD for SAASTA, the purpose of the competition was to create awareness of the cube satellite and give learners an opportunity to contribute to the space science and technology programme.

Dr Nukeri handed over the prizes at the launch. Chachane, who attended the live streaming of the launch of the satellite in Cape Town, received a tablet computer and a voucher for laboratory equipment for her school. She also had the opportunity to visit the South African Space Agency (SANSA) site at Hermanus. She was accompanied on the trip by her educator, Ms Mpho Mvulana.

"I gave the satellite the name Tshepiso because it gives hope and will provide our country and its people with many opportunities," said Chachane. She was very excited about boarding a plane for the first time, and now dreams of studying astronomy when she has passed her matric.

CubeSats revolutionising space technology

Funded by the DST, the nano-satellite was designed and built by Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) postgraduate students in collaboration with SANSA, following the CubeSat programme at the French South African Institute of Technology (F'SATI).

Professor Robert van Zyl, director of the F'SATI programme explains that CubeSats are extremely small satellites in the form of 10-cm cubes and with a mass of up to 1 kg (although there are some made up of two or three such cubes).

Van Zyl says, "Originally developed in the US, CubeSats are becoming increasingly popular with universities and technology institutes around the world due to their considerable educational benefits. These tiny satellites have come a long way since Sputnik, the first satellite that was launched in 1957, weighing 83 kg. The success of the CubeSat programme has revolutionised space technology. CubeSats provide hands-on experience for engineers and technologists in their design and construction, and, once in orbit, the data needed to support scientific experiments and projects."

Van Zyl explains that Tshepiso will be placed in orbit at an altitude of 600 km. Its main mission will be to gather data on space weather for SANSA. Space weather refers to the ever changing conditions on the Sun and in space that can affect technological systems on Earth or in space, or which could imperil human life or health.

TshepisoSat was one of fourteen cube satellites launched from a 30-metre tall, three stage rocket. All were successfully released at a height of 600 km above Earth and at 11:13 on the launch date, the first signals were already received from TshepisoSat among loud cheers from those watching the live streaming of the launch. According to Francois Visser, principal engineer and student mentor, TshepisoSat is functioning well, circling the Earth almost 15 times per day in a polar orbit.

Technology platforms for training and research

Van Zyl says the strength of the CubeSat programme is its use of cube satellites as technology platforms for practical skills training and applied research. "This approach offers our students a unique learning experience and prepares them to participate in the South African space industry."

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.

The nano-satellite, designated "ZA-003" in the national register of space assets, follows in the footsteps of micro-satellites Sunsat and SumbandilaSat.

For more information, visit www.cput.ac.za or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter: @CPUT #ZACUBE1 #CubeSat #Tshepiso