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Stay updated with the news

Fri, 02 Jun 2017
South Africa’s latest nanosatellite now in orbit

The Department of Science and Technology(DST) announced on Wednesday that South African nanosatellite nSight1 had been successfully launched from the International Space Station last week, on May 24. nSight1 was designed and built by SCS Space, part of the local SCS Aerospace Group, and is the country’s, and indeed Africa’s, first privately-owned nanosatellite.

“The satellite is an important milestone, demonstrating the outcome of the capability established through the Department of Science and Technology’s ongoing investment in the South African space programme,” highlighted DST deputy director-general: technology innovation Mmoboneni Muofhe. “More than 70% of the satellite is made up of satellite components supplied by enterprises in the South African space industry.” The assembly of nSight1 took six months, and made use of South Africa’s entire space infrastructure. It is the fourth South African satellite launched into space, following Sunsat (launched in 1999), SumbandilaSat (2009) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology nanosatellite ZACube-1 (2013).

nSight1 is carrying three payloads, two of them from South Africa and one from Europe. It forms part of the European Commission’s QB50 project to explore a region of the atmosphere known as the lower thermosphere – hence the European payload, which is intended to analyse the lower thermosphere. QB50 involves 28 nanosatellites from 23 countries.

The second payload is SCS’s own Gecko imager. This extremely compact device provides Red/Green/Blue imagingat high frame rates, with considerable and fast data storage. Its design is optimised for use on two unit (2U) or larger nanosatellites. (NSight1 is a 2U design.)

The third payload comes from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. It is their patented RadiationMitigation VHDL Coding Technique (VHDL stands for VHSIC Hardware Description Language; VHSIC stands for Very High Speed Integrated Circuit).

Mission control for the nanosatellite is the responsibility of SCS Space’s ground operations team. To this end, they are based at a new ground station at the Houwteq facility, near Grabouw in the Western Cape.


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Tue, 30 May 2017
Kenya unveils first new railway in a century

More than a century after a colonial railway gave birth to modern Kenya, the country is betting on a new Chinese-built route to cement its position as the gateway to East Africa.

The $3.2 billion (2.8 billion euro) railway linking Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa will Wednesday take its first passengers on the 472 kilometre (293 mile) journey, allowing them to skip a hair-raising drive on one of Kenya’s most dangerous highways.

The railway is the country’s biggest infrastructure project since independence, and while it has courted controversy, it is a key selling point for the ruling Jubilee party ahead of August elections. It is also part of a “master plan” by east African leaders to connect their nations by rail, with the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) planned to eventually link Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and Ethiopia.

“There is no country which has ever developed without having a very robust railway system. It was long overdue,” Kenya’s Transport Minister James Macharia told AFP.

He said not upgrading the railway in over 100 years “has dragged us backwards in terms of development. “It was on May 30, 1896, that colonial Britain began building a railway from what is today Kenya’s coast to improve access to the riches of Uganda, showing little interest in the wild land in between.

The railway, steeped in tales of swashbuckling colonial adventure and beloved by tourists up until its last, creaking journey in April, is credited with shaping Kenya into its current form. The capital Nairobi, today a regional hub, was a swampy outpost with no particular attraction until it became the headquarters of Kenya Railways.

The construction of the railway is the stuff of legend, with British and Indian workers terrorised by a pair of lions said to have devoured some 135 men. The train was later dubbed the “Lunatic Express”.

Some see a touch of folly in its successor too. In as much as the old line traced the development of colonial Kenya, the new railway has proven a mirror for modern Kenya: dogged by corruption accusations, battling environmental concerns while trying to position itself as the gateway to east Africa. The World Bank, and others, warned that building a new railway, instead of refurbishing the old one, was by far the most expensive option. However, the government went ahead with the project, skipping an open tender to make a direct deal with China — whose Export? Import Bank has loaned Kenya 90 percent of the venture’s cost. “We should ask: ‘Why did you negotiate this badly’?” said Kwame Owino, head of the Nairobi-based Institute of Economic Affairs.

He points to similar Chinese-built railways in Ethiopia, Tanzania and elsewhere on the continent which cost much less per kilometre. Macharia dismisses this argument, saying Kenya’s SGR could carry more cargo, and passes through trickier terrain. He said the government expects the railway to boost GDP by 1.5 percent, allowing them to pay back the loan “in about four years”.

“I think that is a little bit of wishful thinking,” said Owino, [...]

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