SunSpace preparing for launch

The launch campaign for SumbandilaSat will start in all earnest this weekend (22 August 2009) when a team from SunSpace will start unpacking SumbandilaSat at the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan and begin testing the satellite in preparation for integration with the launch vehicle. Launch is scheduled for 15 September.

“We expect to spend about 10 days at the launch site and then return home to start work preparing the ground station in Stellenbosch,” Johan Erasmus, SunSpace Systems Engineer said. “We will leave one person behind to remove the protective covers and check the status of the batteries before launch.”

SumbandilaSat is expected to be separated from the upper stage of the launch vehicle approximately 30 minutes before the satellite will be in view of the ground station in South Africa, this is estimated to be approximately 3 hours after launch. The ground station will activate various systems and progressively start testing the various payloads on the satellite. This process could take as long as three months before some of the experimental payloads will be scheduled.

South Africa’s first entry into space was in 1999 when SunSat, a small satellite built by the students and lecturers at Stellenbosch University (SU) was launched. The project led to the formation of SunSpace, a company that continued to build on the expertise gained during the development of SunSat.

SumbandilaSat is sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology and was built at SunSpace in cooperation with SU.

The main payload of SumbandilaSat is a multi-spectral imager which has a 6.25m Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) with 6 spectral bands and is supported by an on-board storage of 24 GB of memory and a main downlink of 72 Mb/s

The satellite also includes a number of experimental payloads which are part of a capacity and expertise building initiative associated with the project.  Two of the interesting experiments were devised by Stellenbosch University,  a radiation experiment and a Software Defined Radio Experiment

US Radiation Experiment

A part of the experiment will measure the response of reprogrammable logic to space radiation. The data collected will assist the development of improved radiation tolerant space systems by validating experimental results obtained from terrestrial radiation results. The results from space experiments will also aid in developing cost effective terrestrial radiation testing processes to minimise development costs. A further benefit is that system improvement can help solve numerous problems that are currently experienced related to the design of reliable and economically viable satellite systems.

US SDR Experiment

In this experiment, an additional SunSpace single-board computer (identical to the satellite’s primary on-board computer) is used as a digital signal processing platform for a reconfigurable communications system. A daughterboard is added to the computer to allow signal conversion and translation to and from radio frequencies. Radio functionality can be reprogrammed as needed, enabling remote management and upgrading of the communications system.

Software Defined Radio (SDR) is communications architecture where maximum system functionality (including modulation and demodulation) is seated in the digital, or software, domain. This approach provides highly flexible communication systems, where a single hardware platform can be reused for many different applications, and system upgrades can be done through a simple software update. Also, the main focus of system design shifts to software, allowing rapid application development and implementation. SDR is particularly suited to satellite applications, since it allows remote, over-the-air reconfiguration of satellite communication systems.

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SunSpace preparing for launch