The Satellite Applications Centre (SAC), part of the CSIR, announced that South Africa’s Sumbandila microsatellite (SumbandilaSat) has been fully commissioned and is returning useful data from orbit. The satellite was launched last September from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and has suffered many difficulties between then and today’s announcement. Sumbandila, meaning “Lead the Way” in the Venda language, is part of the South African space programme and will serve as a research tool to investigate the viability of affordable space technology.
Sumbandila was designed and built by SunSpace, in conjunction with the University of Stellenbosch and the Department of Science and Technology.
Unfortunately, Sumbandila has suffered a number of technical problems since launch. First, the Z-axis reaction wheel (used to swivel the satellite around the Z-axis and point it at a target) failed. Then, a problem with a power module took one of the CCD cameras offline. Finally the Y-axis reaction wheel failed, leaving the satellite in a slow uncontrolled tumble. Nevertheless, it continues to do useful work, and the control engineers are still able to collect data by synchronising their images with the satellites tumble – an impressive feat.
Hopefully this will lead to bigger and more ambitious projects for the South African Space Program in future.