Uganda’s PearlAfricaSat-1 Satellite to Launch to the ISS in August

Uganda has completed the development of its first satellite, bringing closer the country’s outer space and space technology aspirations. In April 2020, Uganda began the path to launch its first satellite into space by sending three graduate students to obtain training in satellite design, manufacture, and testing as part of a global programme initiated in 2015 by the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan.

On Tuesday, May 10 2022, the three students, namely; Edgar Mujuni, Derick Tebusweke and Bonny Omara, successfully finished their work on a 10 cubic metre satellite named PearlAfricaSat-1, which they have now handed over to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for final testing.

Dr Monica Musenero, the minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, noted that JAXA would, in the next five to eight days, carry out testing on Uganda’s first satellite and hand it over to United States of America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for transportation to the international space station. The satellite will subsequently deploy from the ISS into low earth orbit, tentatively in August this year.

“These students completed the development of this satellite, and this morning we remotely participated in an event at the prime minister’s office where the government of Uganda, represented by the nation’s ambassador in Japan, handed over this satellite to the Japan Space Agency to finalise some tests and those tests will be done in about five days and then it will await launch together with other satellites by NASA in August,” said Musenero.

The engineers have designed PearlAfricaSat-1 to provide research and observation data in six primary areas. These areas include weather forecast; land, water and mineral mapping; agriculture monitoring; infrastructure planning; border security, and disaster prevention.

The core missions for PearlAfricaSat-1 are a multispectral camera payload. The Multispectral Camera mission will provide about 20-metre resolution images for Uganda to facilitate water quality, soil fertility, and land use and cover analysis. The satellite will play a vital role in the oil and gas operation by monitoring the East African crude oil pipeline. This will enable accurate weather forecasts by gathering remote sensor data for predicting landslides and drought. Once the satellite reaches orbit, an Uganda ground station will monitor its health status for a few days before it starts executing its mission.

In 2019, the Ugandan Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation announced the country had set aside a budget for capacity development in the area of satellite development, which will see the nation launch its first satellite by 2022. Furthermore, Uganda has plans to build a second satellite in Uganda while developing the capacity of young local engineers. Uganda intends to launch this second satellite by the end of 2024.

With the expected launch dates getting nearer, Musenero noted they have started carrying out preliminary assessments to redevelop the Mpoma earth satellite station. The minister added that while the expected redevelopment of Mpoma will be a significant project, in the interim, a group of Ugandans will install sensor terminals. This group of Ugandans will include the aforementioned students as the station will facilitate communication with the satellite in one of the existing structures. Although the minister noted that the government has not yet come up with the expected amount of money for the redevelopment, local sources have learnt that the government had set aside USD 200,000 (about Shs 716.3 million) to improve infrastructure at the station.

The station will be under the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL) and the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation space programme.