South Africa: Sumbandila, a South African remote sensing satellite, is out of contact with its Mission Control and has not downloaded any images since July 2011, announced Dr Sandile Malinga, CEO, South African National Space Agency (Sansa). So far, this is the only RS satellite South Africa owns in the orbit.
It is believed that the satellite, built by Stellenbosch-based company Sun Space & Information Systems (SunSpace) and operated by Sansa on behalf of the Department of Science and Technology, was hit by a blast of solar radiation. This damaged Sumbandila’s systems and the satellite is now tumbling out of control.
However, neither Sansa nor SunSpace have yet given up hope of re-establishing contact with and control of the satellite. SunSpace’s engineers believe that they only need three minutes of communication with Sumbandila to upload new instructions and restore control. The satellite’s battery, needed to power the control systems, is known to be run down and the satellite has only one solar panel with which to recharge it. Sumbandila sustained its damage in South Africa’s midwinter, and during this season its orbit exposes it to the sun less often, meaning that battery recharging takes longer.
Sansa and SunSpace are thus waiting for summer and optimal recharging conditions before trying to re-establish control. “We haven’t given up on it,” assured Malinga. “We’re still trying.” If the attempts made during this coming summer fail, then “at some point, we’ll have to make a decision” on whether to declare Sumbandila dead and abandon it.
Even if the worst comes to pass, the Sumbandila programme has still been a success, he affirmed. “It is a prototype satellite. It has been in space for two years. It has collected over 1 100 usable images, cloud free images.” These have included images of flooded areas of Namibia and earthquake and tsunami devastated areas of Japan.