Zimbabwe’s first satellite — ZimSat-1 — will reach the International Space Station (ISS) next month before its launch into orbit in November, marking the country’s entry into space after a two-month delay caused by inclement weather.
ZimSat-1 will be on board the Cygnus NG-18, an uncrewed spacecraft that provides commercial cargo resupply services to the ISS on behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), when it is released into space in October.
The satellite was initially scheduled to enter orbit in July, but unfavourable weather conditions in space led to further delays.
The Sunday Mail understands ZimSat-1 is provisionally scheduled to reach the ISS on October 28, before being launched from the Japanese Kibo module, the Asian country’s science module for the ISS.
ZimSat-1’s launch into orbit is considered the first baby steps of the country’s fledgling space programme, which began in 2018 following the establishment of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA).
It is envisaged that the satellite will immensely enhance the country’s mineral exploration, monitoring of environmental hazards and mapping of human settlements, among other capabilities.
ZINGSA co-ordinator Dr Painos Gweme said the launch is now imminent.
“Our launch was disturbed by weather and it is now scheduled for October 28,” said Dr Gweme.
He said the schedule remains subject to auspicious weather conditions in space and other technical considerations. ZimSat-1 will be launched under the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite (BIRDS) programme that is co-ordinated by NASA. BIRDS is the same gateway used by Ghana when it launched its nanosatellite in 2017.
“The rocket will go to the International Space Station in October, then the satellite will be loaded into the Japanese Kibo module, awaiting release into space.
“This is usually determined by weather in space.
“So, it usually takes two or three weeks, then the satellite is released into orbit,” said Dr Gweme.
Once launched, he added, Zimbabwe will immediately begin benefiting from its deployment.
“We already have the necessary infrastructure in place. We have the receiving systems in place, so once we launch, we will immediately be able to put our space presence to good use.”
Three Zimbabwean scientists have been in Japan working on the project.
Once launched, Zimbabwe will be able to deploy geospatial technology to manage its boundaries, calculate its full mineral quantities and help telecommunications companies improve their services.
Over the past three years, ZINGSA has developed a National Wetlands Masterplan through its Geospatial Science and Earth Observation Department.
The department also developed a Revised Agro-Ecological Map for Zimbabwe, which was last updated in 1960.
Currently, it is carrying out aerial mapping of urban settlements to identify dysfunctional, illegal and irregular settlements.
To date, suburbs that include Gimboki Farm in Mutare, Cowdray Park in Bulawayo and several others in Harare have been mapped. – Sunday Mail