SumbandilaSat hit by new problem - Marian Shinn

DA MP says on-board computer failed to respond to ground station commands

Another glitch for SA's SumbandilaSat

It is disappointing to learn that South African satellite SumbandilaSat, launched into space almost two years ago, has experienced a new problem; this time the failure of its on-board computer to respond to commands from the ground station.

This happened in early June and is thought to have been caused by a major radiation event in space.

What is disappointing about this is that it was not mentioned during the Science and Technology parliamentary portfolio committee's oversight visit to the South African National Space Agency's (SANSA's) Space Operations at Hartebeeshoek on July 27.

While I understand that skilled software engineering has restored operations to the satellite, work is continuing to recover the primary controller of the on-board computer's power distribution unit.

I have submitted parliamentary questions to Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor asking for an explanation of the failure, steps taken to rectify it and details of the impact on delivery of SumbandilaSat's images to end users.

SumbandilaSat has so far cost the public purse R100 million.

Shortly after its launch in September 2009, SumbandilaSat experienced serious and permanent failures, attributed to cost compromises made in the choice of components when constructing this prototype.

Radiation damage to the spacecraft caused a power distribution failure that has rendered the Z-axis and Y-axis wheel permanently inoperable, meaning that the craft tumbles as it orbits and has lost the ability to capture imagery from the green, blue and xantrophyll spectral bands.

Cabinet decided in March this year to buy the majority shareholding of SumbandilaSat's manufacturing company, Stellenbosch-based SunSpace. Deloitte was to determine the size and cost of the shareholding by July 2011. Government's shareholding in the company will be held by SANSA, which reports to the Department of Science and Technology.

In answer to a question I posed to Minister Pandor earlier this year she said the decision to buy shares in SunSpace, which is in financial distress, is of strategic importance to the success of South Africa's space programme. In light of this, it is imperative that her Department ensure all necessary steps are taken to correct the problems that have been dogging the programme thusfar, and to minimise any future costs.

Statement issued by Marian Shinn MP, DA Shadow Minister of Science and Technology, August 23 2011

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