HARARE – The beleaguered Zimbabwean government says it is set to launch its first satellite into orbit next month in a major milestone expected to enhance mineral exploration, monitoring of environmental hazards and droughts, mapping human settlements and disease outbreaks, among many other capabilities.
According to State media reports, ZimSat-1, a nanosatellite, will be launched from the Japanese KIBO Module – the Asian country’s science module for the International Space Station (ISS) − after nearly a year-long delay caused by Covid-19.
The programme is considered the first baby steps of the country’s fledgling space programme, which was launched in 2018 following the launch of the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA).
ZimSat-1 was built by local engineers working with the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan. It will be launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
ZINGSA coordinator Mr Painos Gweme told The Sunday Mail that the satellite will be launched between July and August depending on weather conditions.
ZINGSA, he said, has also heightened its participation in space forums to enhance the country’s preparedness for the programme.
With ZimSat-1 in orbit, Zimbabwe will become the 14th African country to enter space. ZimSat-1 is an Earth Observation CubeSat, which falls under the small satellites category deployed by new space-faring countries.
“Everything is now ready; we received a report recently indicating that it was tested and approved for flight.
“We have our engineers on the ground in Japan who are making sure everything goes according to plan.”
Asked about the importance of Zimbabwe’s space programme, Mr Gweme said: “Space science and technology present cheap, vibrant and more efficient methods which are superior to traditional ones in solving problems.
“Therefore, as a country, we had to adopt space science technologies to solve our national problems appropriately and, as such, the deployment of these technologies was long overdue.”
Since its launch, ZINGSA has developed a National Wetlands Masterplan through its Geospatial Science and Earth Observation department. The department also developed a Revised Agro-Ecological Map for Zimbabwe, which was last updated in 1960.
ZINGSA is currently carrying out aerial mapping of urban settlements to identify dysfunctional, illegal and irregular settlements. To date, suburbs that include Gimboki Farm in Mutare, Cowdray Park in Bulawayo and several others in Harare have been mapped. Meanwhile, ZINGSA’s space science department is also identifying areas to deploy lightning detectors to mitigate lightning strike hazards around the country.