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From Russia with test logs

It is quite weird when you have a minute to sit down and think about where exactly you are and what the situation is.

In the middle of nowhere on the Russian and Kazakh border is a little town called Yasny. From here ISC Kosmotras launch Dnepr vehicles and their payloads into orbit, six of them so far.

It is a few kilometers outside this little town, next to a military base, that I am currently busy with the final checks on ZACUBE-1 and doing top-up charging of the on-board batteries. Today is my second and final day of preparing the spacecraft for launch.

All activities so far have gone according to plan, or “nominally” I guess would be the technical term. We share the clear room in the Assembly, Integration and Test Building (AITB) with the Ukrainian team from Yuzhnoe Design Bureau, who design and manufacture the Dnepr vehicle. They are completing work on the Space Head Module (SHM), which is the upper part of the launch vehicle.

I share my time here with personnel from ISIS and ISL, who brokered our launch. It helps to have some familiar faces to share a few laughs (and beers of course). The guys from ISIS are working on their CubeSat called Triton-1 and also doing final preparations on FUNcube-1 with ISL staff providing support where they can. Skybox Imaging are also here preparing their satellite for launch.

This is definitely been an experience I will never forget and the word fortunate does not really describe it fully either. Russia is “prima”.

Good luck to everyone taking part in this launch!


No, no, no! It goes like this…


I felt compelled to write this post after seeing the umpteenth, often very wrong, article on what we are doing in the CubeSat program at F’SATI and CPUT. The latest one comes from AMSAT-UK ( So here goes…

Students at CPUT/F’SATI have been busy building the 1U CubeSat, ZACUBE-01 which will carry a HF beacon, beaconing at a frequency of 14.099 MHz. The 1U was supposed to be a quick short term, fast track mission to be completed before the planned later 3U mission.

Jason, Nyameko and Danie

Jason, Nyameko and Danie

The ZACUBE-01 mission main payload is its HF beacon. A small low resolution camera was also fitted as an extra. The spacecraft will also, at times, beacon on UHF. ZACUBE-01 conforms to the 1U CubeSat standard and weighs less than 1.33 kg. Nominally ZACUBE-01 will be spin stabilised in a Y-Thomson spin using two magnetorquers. TT&C will operate from the ground station on campus at CPUT with VHF uplink and UHF downlink.

Nominal launch date for ZACUBE-01 at this stage is middle November 2012 with the launch brokered through ISIS.

A big part of both missions is post-graduate training of students, as F’SATI is a post-graduate research centre focussing on Satellite Engineering. The science partner for the ZACUBE-01 mission is the SANSA Space Science directorate (formerly the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory).



Most of the numbered points in the AMSAT-UK post relates to the planned 3U mission. The 3U mission will most likely have a higher resolution imager than the 1U mission, store and forward payload, L to S-band transponder and three axis ADCS. The novel ADCS is being developed by the University of Stellenbosch.

The 3U will also carry an S-band transmitter developed at F’SATI/CPUT. This transmitter is also being delivered to Clyde Space for use in the UKube-1 mission and is also for sale through them.

ZACUBE-01 uses a UHF/VHF radio transceiver developed at F’SATI that can operate at 1200 and 9600 bps. The transceiver has selectable transmit power levels up to 2 watt.

Oh… and the picture in the AMSAT-UK article shows Francois Visser (F’SATI Chief Technical Architect) unveiling ZACUBE-01, SANSA CEO Dr Sandile Malinga was present but cannot be seen in the photo.