SunSpace was established in 2000 as a spin-off from Stellenbosch University following the successful launch of SUNSAT by NASA with a Delta-II launch vehicle. During the past decade SunSpace has developed and delivered numerous satellite components, subsystems and two flight model satellite, now operational in space. This blog documents the mission of Sumbandila (funded by the DST), launched on a Soyuz-2.1b on 17 September 2009. SunSpace places a high premium on a strong partnership with the South African Government for supplying the ongoing satellite needs of our government.

19 November 2009

First image from the Horizon Sensor

We have downloaded the first image from the on-board Horizon Sensor, which forms part of the sensor suite of the Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS).  Data from the sensor is used to improve the accuracy of the attitude estimators.  The sensor automatically extracts the Earth horizon profile from the image and then passes the coordinates thereof on to the ADCS SW.

17 November 2009

First high-resolution images

We have received the first images from the main payload (6-band imager) at the capture station at the Overberg Test Range (OTB).  With this significant milestone we have confirmed that the imager electronics and mass memory storage are working as expected.  Over the next couple of weeks we will perform various system calibration functions to further optimize the image quality.

The first officially released image will be sent to the Department of Science and Technology when available. The Department may publish the particular image at its own convenience. Further images on this blog will be published with the consent of the Department.

08 November 2009

SA-AMSAT payload activation over the USA

The SA-AMSAT payload was again activated over several areas around the globe, with keen participation from many hams.  The two passes over the USA were particularly crowded.

Shown below is the satellite footprint over the USA for the 14:18 UTC pass (left) and 15:52 pass (right).

From what I could decypher from the recordings, the following callsigns were heard (callsigns from the 14:18 pass are shown in yellow and those from the 15:52 pass in red):

You can listen to a recording of the first pass activity here and of the second pass here (thank you Johan Papay, K8YSE EN91, for making the recordings available).

06 November 2009

Data transmitter activated

We have for the first time activated the S-band data transmitter on the satellite and captured the transmitter-generated test pattern at the Overberg Test Range (OTB) station near Bredasdorp.  During this exercise the satellite was in a target-tracking control mode, with the S-band waveguide antenna "tracking" the OTB station.

The image below shows the captured test pattern.

Fine Sun Sensor calibrated

Below is an image taken by the Fine Sun Sensor before calibration (right) and after the sensor output levels have been calibrated (left)

05 November 2009

Three-axis stabilized

The satellite is now in a full three-axis control mode, using the three orthogonally placed reaction wheels, data from the calibrated fine sun sensor and the fiber-optic gyroscopes.  This is a major step in the direction of taking the first images with the main payload camera.

03 November 2009

SA-AMSAT payload status

For those interested in the progress made on the SA-AMSAT payload commissioning, please visit / join the Google Group that was specifically established for this purpose (follow link at the bottom of the right-hand column on this page).  The discussions on this group are of a more technical nature.  The required CTCSS tone to activate the transponder has for instance been published on this group.

During the commissioning of Sumbandila we try to work in the scheduling of the SA-AMSAT payload as often as we can, but the service can by no means be guaranteed at this stage.  The commissioning of the satellite is expected to last more or less six months (from date of launch), during which time our primary focus is on demonstrating success with the high-resolution imager - the main payload on the satellite.

The activation schedule for the SA-AMSAT payload will be published on the AMSAT-BB, in addition to being visible on the Google Group, as and when our satellite commissioning schedule permits activation.

appreciate the eager participation of all Hams worldwide, and would like to encourage making your feedback visible on the Google Group.

ADCS code updated

We have completed a major Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) software code upload to the satellite.  As a result the satellite is once again in a Nadir-pointing attitude.

In addition, we continued with periodic scheduling of the SA-AMSAT payload and recently had contacts through the satellite from the USA and Australia.

We are now working towards obtaining the first high-resolution images from the on-board linescan and matrix detectors.

24 October 2009

Fine Sun Sensor image

This image of the sun was taken by die Fine Sun Sensor today.  The sun centroid is then extracted by SW using a region-growing algorithm.  The centroid is required by the more advanced attitude determination estimators in order to 3-axis stabilize the satellite.

Below is a graph depicting the extracted X and Y coordinates of the centroid, calculated 1s apart, for a duration of 1 hour and 4 minutes (total sunlit part of one complete orbit).

21 October 2009

OSCAR number (SO-67) allocated to Sumbandila

Given the recent success with the SA-AMSAT payload on the satellite, we have been officially assigned the OSCAR number of SO-67 by AMSAT (USA).  See message of Bill Tynan (AMSAT OSCAR number coordinator) below.  For more background on assignment of OSCAR number, see SUNSAT was allocated the OSCAR number SO-35 in 1999. 

You can also listen to an edited version of the latest ARNewsline report here (see for more detail).

I am in receipt of an e-mail sent to the AMSAT-NA Board of Directors by Hans van de Groenendaal, Secretary SA AMSAT. 

The e-mail states that the amateur payload on SumbandilaSat was developed by SA AMSAT and incorporated by the University of Stellenbosch into the main payload and that the SA AMSAT payload was officially coordinated through IARU Satellite Frequency Coordination Panel with an uplink of 145,880 and downlink of 435,350 MHz

The e-mail further states that the amateur radio transponder on SumbandilaSat was successfully switched on from the ground by ZS6BPZ during the test phase on Sunday 18 October 2009 and that several QSOs were made through the transponder.

The e-mail also requests that an OSCAR number be allocated to this spacecraft.

Therefore, by the authority vested in me by the AMSAT-NA President, I hereby designate this latest amateur radio satellite as SumbandilaSat Oscar 67 or SO- 67.

On behalf of AMSAT-NA and the world's amateur radio satellite community I congratulate those responsible for building, testing and launching this new satellite. May it have a long and successful life.

William A. (Bill) Tynan, W3XO

19 October 2009

SA AMSAT payload tested successfully

During the first morning pass of Sun 18 Oct we have activated the voice beacon (435.350 MHz) at 07:48 UTC and switched on the bent-pipe transponder (uplink 145.880 MHz, downlink 435.350 MHz) during the first evening pass at 19:13 UTC, with several Radio Amateurs then operating through the satellite transponder.

You can listen to a recording made during the evening pass here.

Below is a graphic depicting the location of the six Radio Amateurs that partook in the first test.

Feedback from some of the Hams that participated in the first test:
  • Congratulations to all part of the success of the first Sumbandilasat comms. Well done! (Eddie Leighton, ZS6BNE)
  • When I was on freq the Sat's audio was clear with a S7 signal which sounds just like a local repeater. Congrats to the TEAM ! (Andre van Deventer, ZS2BK)
  • The down link was pretty strong - It's at least 10dB stronger than AO51/SO50 given the same setup. Good news indeed. Suggest operation from Quadrifilar Omni with a low noise preamp on 70cm might be quite achievable (Allan Saul, ZS1LS)

17 October 2009

First month in space

Sumbandila completed 457 orbits during its first month in space which corresponds to 0.1316 AU (1 AU = distance between Earth and Sun).  We managed to make successful contact with the satellite during all the available* passes over the Stellenbosch ground station, namely 107 (or roughly 23% of all orbits).  During these 107 ground station passes, we had a total contact time with the satellite of roughly 15 hours. 

* Passes with a maximum elevation angle of at least 4°.

13 October 2009

First video received from the satellite

We are blessed - have received the first real-time video images from the satellite during the two morning passes!  The signal was simultaneously received by the ground station at Stellenbosch University and the one at SAC (Hartebeeshoek) - the one in Stellenbosch with a 4.2m dish and the one at SAC with a 10m dish.  The signal-to-noise ratio of the latter was obviously much better. 

You can see an edited version of the video below, captured in Stellenbosch.  At the time the satellite was moving over the North-Western corner of Namibia in a South-Western direction.  In the second half of the video you will notice the top part of a VHF antenna visible at the top of the frame.

12 October 2009

Effects of radiation

We have noticed that some of the SRAM devices in use on the satellite are sensitive to Single Event Effects (due to radiation). This typically manifests as increased current.

All our electronics are protected by latch-up circuitry, but some of the increases in currents observed are below the set thresholds of the built-in trip functionality of these circuits.

We have now implemented a further protection mechanism in software which necessitated code uploads to the main on-board computer, some of the power distribution units, as well as the attitude computer.

In parallel we continue to perform minor commissioning activities and regular health checks. We plan to resume commissioning of the attitude control systems this week.

03 October 2009

Satellite Nadir pointing

The ADCS computer now runs a Y-momentum wheel controller that stabilizes the satellite  with near-zero roll and yaw angles using data from the coarse sun sensors and a magnetorquer nutation damping controller.  The main solar panel faces the sun in this control mode.  The Y-wheel is controlled to track a reference pitch angle (as close as possible to zero).

With the satellite now Nadir pointing (ie the imager aperture and antennas continuously faces in the direction of Earth), our communication with the satellite has improved further.  The next step is to start commissioning the various attitude sensors so that we can activate full three-axis control on the satellite.

All other systems continue to operate within nominal limits.

30 September 2009

New software for ADCS processor

We have successfully uploaded new software for the ADCS processor (T800), containing the following changes:
  • New coefficients for the 2009 IGRF model
  • Latest NORAD elements
  • Calibration values for the fluxgate magnetometer
  • Minor modifications to code functionality
After verifying that the code is executing correctly, we have switched on a Y-Thompson attitude controller, for the first time transferring attitude control of the satellite to the ADCS processor (from the magnetic subsystem on which a basic controller was run up to now).  From here we can proceed with the commissioning of the more advanced attitude controllers, which will finally lead to a 3-axis stabilised satellite.

The OBC is running more reliably after modifying some EDAC parameters.  We have identified a couple of improvements to the flight code which will be uploaded soon.  This will affect only some of the software modules running on the QNX operating system, so that we do not have to upload and replace all the flight software.

26 September 2009

Whole Orbit Data (WOD) collected

We have made a further improvement to our ground station setup by replacing the existing UHF yagi antenna with one which has 4dB more gain.  It is now mounted on the dish which eliminates some obstruction we experienced previously.  During last night's passes we had a marked improvement in communications.

We have now downloaded almost 500kB of WOD, including fluxgate magnetometer readings which will enable us to calibrate the magnetometer.  The ADCS system is continuing to perform well, as are the thermal and power subsystems.

There seems to be a high incidence of Single Event Effects (SEE) due to radiation, especially on the On-Board Computer (OBC).  We have however designed all the electronics with latch-up protection, so none of the SEE occurrences to date have caused any permanent damage.  Sometimes an SEE causes the OBC to reset and we have recently noticed that an auto restart of the processor then does not fully complete.  With the WOD now available to us it seems that the lengthening of a timing constraint in software will be able to alleviate this problem.  Note that we could not test for SEE on the ground so were not able to observe this timing effect prior to launch.

24 September 2009

Sumbandila Two-Line-Element (TLE) set

Peterson AFB in America informed us that they have incorrectly labeled Sumbandila as Fregat-IRIS. They are part of the radar tracking network responsible for uniquely identifying over 20,000 objects in Earth orbit! We have therefore up to now tracked the Fregat-Iris (35867) in stead of Sumbandila (35870). 

After correcting the TLE information, our communication with the satellite is more consistent and reliable. 

We intend to affect the improvements that we made to our ground station equipment, to the SAC ground station in the coming week.

22 September 2009

Sumbandilasat Technical Status Report No. 1

Sumbandilasat has completed more than 50 Earth orbits in space and we are now in full swing with the various commissioning activities.

The two autonomous Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) controllers (Bdot and Y-Thompson; Bdot-Sun) running on a small micro processor on the magnetic subsystem (no floating point processing) are perfectly pitching the satellite at 2°/sec with the main body-mount solar panel facing the sun. The power system is therefore running optimally. We are satisfied with the thermal state of the satellite in the current basic attitude control mode.

As expected, the 500km orbit of the satellite causes incidences of short contact opportunities with the satellite due to the fact that our ground station is located at the Engineering Faculty (in Stellenbosch) where it is surrounded by various high mountains. We have identified certain aspects in our communication setup on the ground which can be improved to make the communications with the satellite more robust and reliable.

In addition, we are re-evaluating the possibility to extend the contact time with the satellite by also employing the Sumbandilasat TT&C ground station at SAC (Hartebeeshoek), by remotely controlling passes from Stellenbosch. 

At the moment we are focusing on the commissioning of the main On-Board Computer that will allow us to collect whole-orbit telemetry data, calibrate the magnetometer and proceed to the more advanced ADCS control modes on the main Attitude Computer.

17/09/2009 20:48 Our first pass

We are extremely pleased with our baby in space!! Our first pass last night at 20:48 local time was a very low elevation Eastern pass with some mountains obscuring the “view” as well, but the satellite responded beautifully almost immediately after sending the first command from the Stellenbosch ground station!

We received real-time telemetry which suggested that the satellite was already executing an autonomous attitude stabilization maneuver. This was confirmed during the second pass where we also had good communications. This morning the satellite was stable in a sun-Thompson mode.

Celebration on our first Contact with Sumbandila

18 September 2009

Estimated angular rates

The graph below shows the estimated angular rates 2 hours after launcher separation, already close to Y-Thompson spin at -2 deg/sec. The Y and Z angular rates are less than 0.5 deg/sec.

Current Keplerian Elements

Last Update: 1 Febr 2010
Element set: 404

1 35870U 09049F   10032.48635300  .00000433  00000-0  21444-4 0  4040
2 35870 097.3525 084.8560 0011505 166.1189 300.7196 15.22856092 20818