Zimbabwe plans to launch its first satellite, ZIMSAT-1, in February 2022. The CubeSat will host a multispectral camera and image classification tool, as well as a device to transmit and receive signals from amateur radio operators. Scientists said these tools will allow stakeholders to more quickly and fully assess data for issues like ground cover and drought.
ZIMSAT-1 is the latest mission from the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite (BIRDS) project, a multinational program to help countries build their first satellite. ZIMSAT-1 was built by Zimbabwean engineers working with the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch it. In addition to the satellite itself, BIRDS supports a free app (BIRDS-NEST) with which satellite images from ZIMSAT-1 can be downloaded onto smartphones.
ZIMSAT-1 will be a capstone to Zimbabwe’s fast growing space program, which was established in 2018 as the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), housed at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. In 2020, ZINGSA was allocated $7 million.
“The use of space technologies presents vast opportunities, such as managing our abundant natural resources, environmental hazards and disasters, weather forecasting, climate change mitigation and adaptation, agriculture and food security, as well as disease outbreaks,” said Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa at an event earlier this year.
Wilfred Nunu, public health lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, welcomed the launch of the satellite as “a good idea…. It is also a positive step towards ensuring we have access to data for most of our projects in line with remote sensing.”
Nunu said he is “100% likely” to use data from the satellite. “We usually struggle to download data, particularly in our projects relating to land use and land cover changes for a wide period of time. We also do drought monitoring in light of climate change,” he said.
Growing Fleet of Satellites from Africa
Twenty-two years after South Africa launched the first African satellite, SunSat-1, the continent’s satellite fleet stands at 44. African countries including Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan have successfully launched satellites.
Many African countries have yet to launch a satellite, however, largely due to humanitarian priorities. “The initial cost for space exploration is very high,” explained Electdom Matandirotya, chairperson of the Department of Space Sciences and Applied Physics at the University of Zimbabwe. Matandirotya also works with ZINGSA. “So probably most African countries would divert the resources that they had to immediate problems.”
However, she said, “Africa has also realized that space exploration has many benefits in the long run, and investing in such an initiative is worth it.”
—Munyaradzi Makoni (@MunyaWaMakoni), Science Writer