Science

The African tech firm reshaping satellite technology

Nanosatellites such as Cubesats are the up and coming satellite technology. Source: NASA Johnson (via Flickr)

By George Symonds | Contributor

“Most satellites are simply computers that are tossed out the side of a rocket [that] are tumbling in space,” says Jonathan Lun, however after a recent breakthrough in satellite technology from his company Hypernova Space Technologies, or HST, this could all change.

This new experiment from African-based tech firm, HST allows satellites to have the independent ability to move around and avoid crashing into one another. However, this will only be available for nanosatellites (any satellite with mass from 1 kg to 10 kg), but they hope to be able to “change the satellite game completely”. HST will add micro-thrusters paired with sensors to the bottom of the nanosatellites, meaning that they well be able to sense other nearby technology and change their course of directions preventing costly crashes.

Jonathan Lun- a chief executive at HST- explained that at the moment there are around 3,200 nanosatellites in orbit. Recently due to the commercialisation and ease of them, there has been a massive boom in production with Elon Musk’s SpaceX planning on launching at least 42,000 satellites alone. This sudden rise in manufacturing will cause constant collisions between each model, essentially making them futile and adding to the already massive half a million pieces of debris orbiting the planet.

To understand how these new micro-thrusters will improve the ability of the nanosatellite, HST published on their website that they have “found that an electric reaction will be used to vaporise solid metal fuel, a process which will then create a jet of fast-moving plasma that will propel a satellite along”. By using the process of an electric reaction rather than the expensive solar power used currently; the ability to produce the nanosatellite will become much more accessible to companies such as SpaceX, but will also allow the thrusters to be fitted pre-launch “removing the need for any last-minute fuelling before sending satellites off into space.”, which is costly and not environmentally efficient.

How do we know that these thrusters will work out of orbit? HST have stated that they have done rigorous tests in their base at Stellenbosch University, Cape Town. Within these tests they have attached the thrusters to mock nanosatellites and submitted them to extreme cold temperatures and high vibration to mimic the out-of-orbit environment. All the tests have proved successful, meaning the first official HST nanosatellite paired with the micro-thruster is to be sent into orbit in early 2022 with EnduroSat, a company based in Bulgaria. 

This is huge breakthrough in satellite technology and accessibility worldwide, especially for this African tech firm.

Science and Technology

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