Today just after noon Central European Summer Time, a nanosatellite will be released into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS), marking a major leap forward in the space exploration ambitions of Mauritius.
Earlier this month, the small island nation launched its first satellite from the Kennedy Space Center in the United States, aboard a SpaceX cargo rocket on Mission CRS-22/SpX-22.
The small satellite reached its destination, the ISS, on 10 June.
Constructing the CubeSat
The Mauritius Imagery and Radiotelecommunication Satellite (MIR-SAT 1) was built by researchers at the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council (MRIC), part of the country’s Ministry of Information Technology, Communication and Innovation.
The radiocommunication engineers who worked on the proposal also sought international support to engage a commercial nanosatellite solution provider, AAC-Clyde Space.
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) jointly extended facilities and technical support to Mauritius through the KiboCUBE Programme.
Today, the satellite was deployed into low-Earth orbit from Kibo, the ISS’s Japanese Experiment Module.
MIR-SAT 1’s mission
The design, building, testing, and operation of the MIR-SAT1 CubeSat are meant to drive knowledge and technology transfer to Mauritius, with small satellite technology and related promotional activities producing widespread socio-economic benefits.
Data sent back from MIR-SAT1 will be used for various purposes, including climate change adaptation, weather forecasting, road traffic management on constricted island road networks, and maritime surveillance of Mauritius’ sprawling Exclusive Economic Zone.
A ground station at the MRIC premises in Ebene, just south of the national capital, will collect the key data and operate the satellite, as well as receive data and telemetry from other satellites.
Local amateur radio enthusiast Jean Marc Momple provided inputs and offered technical expertise in the preparation of the ground station. Since 2019, project leaders have coordinated with the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to register the satellite and ensure its radiocommunication spectrum needs are be met.
A replica “FlatSat” module enables Mauritian engineers on the ground to simulate any tricky manoeuvres before sending commands to MIR-SAT1. It could also provide the template for future local satellite construction.
MIR-SAT1 will make ground contact with Mauritius four to five times daily depending on the season, over a total expected operational lifetime of two or three years, according to Space in Africa.
What’s next with Mauritian space plans?
The MRIC is now preparing the roadmap to set up a Mauritian Space Unit, tasked with identifying opportunities where space exploration could bring socio-economic benefits to the country.
The research council intends to collaborate with international experts, seek private-sector contributions to ensure financial sustainability, and encourage exchanges of expertise.
In the short to medium term, MRIC aims to work on a three-unit CubeSat mini-constellation to collect data from the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Watch the livestream of the MIR-SAT 1 deployment from Kibo on the ISS at 12:35 pm CEST here.