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THE Department of Science and Technology, looking to breathe life into South Africa's space industry, ordered a capacity and skills audit wherein the National Research Foundation identified a need for satellite engineers and space industry professionals to work for both the South African National Space Agency and the space industry.
To meet this need, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in association with the French South African Institute of Technology (F'SATI), is starting a satellite engineering programme that will produce skilled graduates with solid training backgrounds and specialised skills for the space industry, focusing on CubeSats as a training tool.
In collaboration with the Ecole Superieure d'Ingeneurs en Electronique et Electrotechnique (ESIEE), a graduate school of electronic engineering in Paris, France, students under the F'SATI programme will have a unique opportunity of a dual-degree MTech (electrical engineering) from CPUT and MSc (electronic engineering) awarded by ESIEE. So students will receive South African and international master's degrees. The normal duration of the dual-degree programme will be two years full-time.
The dual-masters degree has now also been extended to a dual-doctorate degree programme - a South African DTech (electrical engineering) and an international PhD degree. CPUT will focus on satellite systems engineering - currently unique in South Africa. Areas of specialisation will include satellite communication and power systems.
"Locally, our students will have the opportunity to be employed by the soon-to-be-established South African National Space Agency, as well as government departments and industry. Through our international network, we can also facilitate placements in the space industry overseas," said Robert van Zyl, associate professor at CPUT's department of electrical engineering and deputy director of F'SATI.
"The NRF study revealed that South Africa has a huge space heritage dating as far back as the early 1950s, supporting launch activities and receiving satellite data for satellites owned by foreign countries. However, currently there is a huge shortage of space-related skills - mainly through the lack of a clear space programme. The study came to a conclusion that the South African space heritage and skills will be lost if not utilised in the next five to ten years," added Van Zyl.
Van Zyl said this put government under pressure to sharpen its space industry goals. "In 2008 the Department of Science and Technology managed to get the South African National Space Agency Bill passed and signed into law by Cabinet and the president. In addition, the DTI and DST wrote a ten-year space policy and strategy document, which also received overwhelming support from Cabinet and the government in general. All these laws, policy and strategy documents will give a guideline to the agency's space programme.
"It is expected that the agency (Sansa) will be launched by April 2010."
CPUT's new programme is funded by the DST and supported by the NRF.
"The NRF has committed R21million over the next three years," said Van Zyl.
Students will be taught engineering principles using a CubeSat as a training tool - a 10cmx10cmx10cm cube that is a type of nanosatellite.
"CubeSats use the same engineering principles as any satellite, large or small. There are more than 40 CubeSat programmes in the US and Europe. CPUT students will demonstrate the CubeSat flight model to showcase their research work at the 2011 International Astronautical Federation conference to be held in Cape Town," said Van Zyl.