In the coming months, a cube measuring 10cm wide, 10cm high and 10cm deep, weighing just 1kg and consuming less than 3 watts, will observe the far reaches of Lake Assal, Mount Musa Ali or the shores of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. But why?
This nanosatellite or “CubeSat” forms part of the “HydroSat” project, which consists of collecting climate data for the State of Djibouti.
Aboubaker Hassan, Secretary General of the Djibouti Ministry of Higher Education and Research, and Frédérique Rebout, Head of Space at Expleo, give us an update on the progress of this project and the Djibouti 1A nanosatellite.
Can you give us an overview of Djibouti's satellite programme?
Aboubaker Hassan: Our country, Djibouti, sits in the Horn of Africa. Its rugged terrain doesn’t allow for the collection of real-time information such as temperature, rainfall, river depths or hydrometry from our 20 climatological stations. Having satellites is an effective way to remedy this situation and understand better the environmental issues facing our country.
But rather than buying a turnkey solution, we want to develop our skills so that we can be responsible for our own satellites. So, since 2020, a dozen Djiboutians – engineers and technicians – have been studying at the Montpellier University Space Centre (CSUM) to learn about the various aspects of such a space programme. Our goal is to have two nanosatellites – Djibouti 1A and Djibouti 1B – at about 550 km in the sky, i.e. in low orbit. Our intention is to have the first of the two CubeSats be operational in the sky by early 2023. That would be a great source of pride for our 1 million population.
What role does Expleo play in this programme?
Frédérique Rebout: CSUM is working for Djibouti on this project but does not have any expertise in developing nanosatellite payloads (the electronic board that manages the entire satellite). As long-term partners, largely thanks to the Van Allen Foundation and ENSO project (Expleo Nanosatellite for Solar Irradiance Observation), they turned to us knowing we have the expertise to help.
Since first being contacted in July 2021, we have provided ten Expleo space experts to help the Djibouti team finalise a very precise specification, both software and components. These objects must withstand the stresses associated with the launch – shocks, vibrations, etc. – but also strong temperature variations. They must also be able to withstand significant temperature variations between -10°C and +50°C, as well as the vacuum of space. Based on these specifications, our team has developed a model to carry out tests and correct small defects and has finalised the design of the nanosatellite’s payload. Today, we are in the final payload manufacturing, verification and validation phase, which should be completed by the summer of 2022. The objective is to have Djibouti 1A – this small object that fits in one hand – launched in 2023.
How is this project unique and innovative?
Frédérique Rebout: Africa is an emerging market for satellites. Few countries dare to embark on such a programme. However, nanosatellites are an unprecedented opportunity compared to large satellites that require more time and resources. At Expleo, we have proven expertise in these technologies. The experience we have developed with ENSO has been very useful for the Djibouti project: the objects are indeed very similar. Incidentally, an anecdote at this point: the camera worked on the first try during all the theoretical tests and on the prototype of the future Djibouti 1A nanosatellite, proof of the competence of our experts. It should be noted that we are working hand in hand with both the CSUM and Djibouti, since all the players are involved at each stage of the design and manufacture of the payload.
Aboubaker Hassan: Our national ambition in terms of the satellite is important because we want to be able to understand and monitor the climate changes that are impacting our country, especially access to water resources. Our project is also unique in the sense that we are training Djibouti’s youth to master the skills related to space technologies. Expleo’s contribution is a precious and precise help for this small cube to be of great service to us.
Learn more about Expleo’s nanosatellite and space industry expertise here.