Saturday, October 22, 2005

SA Scientists Develop Unique Eye in The Sky

Micro Satellite in Orbit
By Richard Davies
IOL
10-21-05

     South African scientists are close to completing work on an unique, new-generation satellite camera, capable of capturing more accurate images of the Earth's surface from orbit.

     Details of the Multi-Sensor Micro-Satellite Imager (MSMI), as the specialised camera is known, were unveiled on Friday at the International Aeronautics Conference (IAC) underway in Fukuoka, Japan.

     The MSMI is expected to be ready for launch into space next June.

     "(Its) uniqueness lies in the fact that it has sensors with specialised functions that can observe the same piece of land at differing resolutions," Professor Sias Mostert, director of Stellenbosch-based Sun Space and Information Systems, said in a statement.

     Mostert is part of a South African delegation attending the IAC.

     He said the MSMI would "allow for much more accurate analysis of image data for scientific research and applications".

     South African scientists in Fukuoka had presented a paper explaining the broad objectives of the new imager in a small satellite mission, and its role in promoting a long-term satellite programme.

     "The MSMI will be the main payload for an MSMI Satellite (MSMISat), dedicated to very particular purposes, such as food security."

     When operated in "viewfinder mode", and provided it was within communication range, the MSMI could be steered - using a joystick - by an operator at a ground station.

     "The viewfinder mode enables the operator to select target areas or avoid cloud cover by aiming through openings between the clouds. At any time during viewfinder operation, the satellite can be commanded to scan the selected ground target area with the main imager.

     "(This) capability will be a unique feature available on all satellites developed in South Africa," Mostert said.

     Earlier this month, Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena announced plans for the development, in conjunction with SunSpace, of a small, low earth-orbiting satellite programme. Government is set to inject R26-million into the three-year project.

     SunSpace has its origins in the SUNSAT satellite programme of Stellenbosch University. SUNSAT, South Africa's first satellite, was developed completely by a local team of engineers, and launched in 1999 by the American space agency Nasa. - Sapa

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