Four Kenyan Universities set to Develop 3U Nanosatellite, According to Professor Baki

The Technical University of Kenya (TUK) recently developed a space project to monitor boats and other water vessels on Lake Victoria. A team from the Nairobi-based institution came up with the nanosatellite dubbed “TUKSat-1”. It will track boats in the lake and provide information to necessary authorities on overfishing and illegal fishing. TUKSat-1 will also automatically relay information on organised crime in the lake to authorities.

Space in Africa consequently met with Professor Paul Baki the project’s principal investigator to shed more light on the project and other future satellite projects.

Can you give me an overview of the TukSat satellite project?         

Sometime in late 2020, the Kenya Space Agency put out a call for proposals to Kenyan universities.  The universities were to write research proposals to develop a 1U nanosatellite. The Technical University, Kenya (TUK) was one of the Universities to submit a consequent research proposal bid. We consequently decided to construct a satellite and develop an application for it. We aimed the application to address significant socioeconomic challenges, and we selected the issue surrounding Lake Victoria.

There are boundary-related issues surrounding the Lake as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda share a border within the lake. This compelled us to develop a method to warn fishers when they’re about to cross the border because they get arrested quite often. It will also help the fishers communicate back to the Kenyan authorities when they get lost or stranded due to water hyacinths. We usually have to airlift them from within the weed. We usually also regularly use drones to survey the area to observe if any fishers are marooned. These informed our decision to develop a nanosatellite for this specific application.   

While this was a technology demonstration project, we achieved our objective. The nanosatellite is not in space and as we affixed it to a drone to carry out its functions. This served to demonstrate the feasibility of what we intended to do.

Are there any plans to launch the nanosat into space?

We are now in the project’s second phase to build a 3U satellite, which is slightly bigger than the 1U satellite. We have received enough time to develop something that can go into space, and we hope we are equal to the task. This project necessitates the universities’ collaboration. 

Is there a timeline regarding the satellite’s development and subsequent launch of the satellite?

We have three years to build the satellite, and we hope to meet the deadline. 

Would Kenya develop the satellite locally?

We developed the technology demonstration TukSat-1 locally in our laboratories. Regarding the 3U satellite, we also intend to produce it locally. 

Would the 3U satellite be solely TUK’s project, or will there be other collaborators?

There will certainly be other collaborators. Other than TUK, the 3U will also involve the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University. 

What are the plans regarding funding?

We are in a straitjacket concerning the amount we have received for the project. Despite it, there are also chances of unforeseen demands and circumstances that may require additional cost. If a situation like this arises, we can always go back to the agency to renegotiate the budget. Regarding the actual amount, it is about USD 30,000. This will only seek to cover the cost of developing the satellite and doesn’t include the cost of launching it. 

Regarding the launch, do you have any launch opportunities in mind?

We believe that we will develop a launch strategy after developing the satellite and confirming that it is functional and has the necessary payload for its mission. It is then we will develop an approach to take it to space. But we are not as much concerned with the launch until we are confident that the satellite can withstand the rigours of the space environment. 

Would the satellite project pursue other funding opportunities?

Yes, certainly. Last time, we had to seek funding from sources other than the Kenya Space Agency (KSA). This is because we can never say we have sufficient funds, so we will pursue it if there is an opportunity to get more funding.