ZIMBABWE’S first satellite launch to space, which was scheduled for yesterday, has been deferred to today due to a fire alert warning in the control building where the deployment was supposed to take place.
The satellites, ZimSat-1, and PearlAfricaSat-1, are both 1U CubeSats and will launch into space as part of the BIRDS-5 constellation, which also includes a 2U CubeSat from Japan. Generally, the satellites will launch as beneficiaries of the Joint Global Multi-Nations Birds Satellite project, an initiative of the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech).
The launch will occur at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility aboard the Northrop Grumman (NG-18 Cygnus) commercial cargo resupply services to the International Space Station (ISS) on behalf of NASA. After the ISS receives the satellites, it will deploy them into orbit later.
BIRDS-5 will perform multispectral observations of Earth using a commercial off-the-shelf camera and demonstrate a high-energy electronic measuring instrument. The statistical data it collects will help distinguish bare ground from forest and farmland and possibly indicate the quality of agricultural growth. As a result, it may help improve the livelihood of the citizens of Uganda and Zimbabwe.
A cross-border University project, BIRDS provides students from developing nations with hands-on satellite development, laying a foundation for similar space technology projects in their home countries that ultimately could lead to sustainable space programs there. Students from participating nations enroll in the Graduate school of Engineering of the Kyushu Institute of Technology as Master’s or Doctoral degree students in the Space Engineering International course to execute this project.
America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was expected to launch the rocket at 12pm before an emergency alarm forced the rescheduling.
Another trial will be undertaken today starting from 5AM to 10AM. It will be beamed live on NASA Television and the agency’s website, as well as YouTube, Twitter, and NASA’s App.
Once launched, Zimbabwe will join the globally elite nations, which have occupied the international space station.
The launch is expected to improve national planning for key projects.
Zimbabwe’s satellite, ZimSat-1, is expected to improve weather predictions in the country, which in turn is expected to aid the agricultural sector, especially.
It is also a milestone that will enhance mineral exploration and monitoring of environmental hazards and droughts. Additionally, it will aid in mapping human settlements and disease outbreaks, among other capabilities. ZimSat-1, a nanosatellite, will deploy from the Japanese KIBO Module.
The satellite is a 1U educational and amateur radio mission CubeSat manufactured under the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan.
The launch of ZimSat-1 is a culmination of a process that commenced in 2018 when President Mnangagwa launched the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA).
It is part of Government’s efforts to leapfrog towards development while aiming for an upper middle-income economy by 2030
ZimSat-1 is being aided by Japan through the Japanese KIBO Module. ZINGSA coordinator Mr Painos Gweme said delays in the launch are a normal thing as the satellite deployment is affected by environmental issues.
“There will be something that is happening over the atmosphere and anything that changes will affect the flow of this thing. What has happened is very normal and it can happen tomorrow,” he said.
Mr Gweme said Zimbabwe is working with Japan in launching the satellite and the Asian giant is the one that is in direct contact with NASA over the developments relating to the launch of ZimSat-1.
“But we really know that the launches are like that, they can change the date. The launch is in two phases and this one of a rocket docking at the international space station can go for three to four weeks preparing the satellite for deployment into space and there can be some other delays that can be encountered as well,” said Mr Gweme.
The launch of the rocket will be followed by the deployment of the satellite tentatively on November 21. He said the planned ZimSat-1 launch comes with skills development for the country.
Through its quality human capital, the country should be in a position to manufacture, assemble and test satellites.
Information Communication Technology expert, Mr Robert Ndlovu, described the planned launch as a significant step that will enhance weather and environmental issues.
“That micro satellite is for geospatial data. It will be used for weather monitoring. It could provide information on the weather every minute so after some time they will analyse that data and be able to do rain classification,” said Mr Ndlovu.
“They will be able to see over time the signs of deforestation, they will be able to access the effects of mining on the land. It is more on the environmental side of things in light of what we call global warming. It is quite a significant project.”
He said the ZimSat-1 has drawn negative comments from some citizens as they lack understanding of its importance.
“Maybe some of them thought that it is going to study stars, no, it is focusing on the ground. It is focusing on temperatures, trees and so forth. In short it is going to provide geographic information system (GIS) for accurate mapping. Right now, the google mapping that we are using is not as clear as it is distant from Zimbabwe,” he said.
Mr Ndlovu said the satellite data has to be linked to other national development programmes for it to be effective. For instance, he said, information on rainfall should inform the country’s agronomy practice while overtime assessing land degradation.
Quizzed on why NASA was assisting Zimbabwe among other nations to launch satellites, a NASA official who was not identified said the project was Japan-led to assist other nations to join the international space station. Uganda is also launching the same time as Zimbabwe.
“The Japanese Exploration Agency have a programme called the Birds programme and this is the fifth of those missions and the goal of this programme is to help non-space faring nations to get their first step into space,” said the official.
“It’s a great programme and these students that are working on this programme are very excited and it’s just a great way to involve them into the space life.” –