Fire frustrated Uganda satellite launch - NASA

The Artemis I unmanned lunar rocket sits on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA in August. The launch of Uganda’s satellite by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in Virginia, USA, was postponed over security concerns. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • The satellite was supposed to be transported aboard the 18th Northrop Grumman commercial resupply services mission to the international space station. 

Uganda’s satellite, PearlAfricaSat-1, will be launched today following yesterday’s postponement of the long-awaited mission after a fire alarm brought all activities at the America-based mission control building to a standstill.

The building in Virginia was evacuated after a fire alarm rang out. The cause of the alarm going off was yet to be determined by press time.                                            

“As they were preparing to send it into space, the fire alarm was reported in the mission control building and that is not a signal that they [America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) ] can allow [it] to continue,” Dr Monica Musenero, the Minister for Science and Technology, said. 

Dr Musenero added: “So, they [NASA] called off the launch and they will try out tomorrow again.” 
Nasa confirmed the postponement in a tweet yesterday.

“Liftoff of the Cygnus spacecraft is now set for November 7 at 5:27am ET [1:27 pm EAT],” the tweet read in part.

Dr Musenero added that the satellite, which was developed by three Ugandan engineers, is being launched by Nasa because Uganda does not have the capacity to do it. 

The satellite was supposed to be transported aboard the 18th Northrop Grumman commercial resupply services mission to the international space station. 

This is not the first time the launch has been postponed. 

The launch, which was initially scheduled for September, was postponed to October over “bad weather,” according to the developers. But this was later pushed to November 6 which again met frustrations.

Dr Doreen Agaba, the technical lead of the Department of Aeronautics and Space Science, at the Science Technology and Innovation Secretariat, said after reaching the space station, the satellite will be deployed to the low earth orbit by a robot for it to start sending required images. 

She said PearlAfricaSat-1 has a multispectral camera payload which will be used in research and observation of high-resolution image data to support weather forecasting; land, water and mineral mapping and agriculture monitoring.

Dr Agaba said the satellite will also support infrastructure planning; border security, and disaster prevention.

Dr Musenero said the satellite will save Uganda from relying on satellite data from other countries which are sometimes blamed for inaccurate weather predictions in the country.

Some members of the public and legislators said the government should focus on what the country can favourably compete in, instead of investing in space science. 

But Dr Musenero, and other scientists in the project, said this is an important step in the country’s development. 

Satellite development

The PearlAfricaSat-1 satellite development started in April 2020, when Uganda took a step towards creating an indigenous space programme by sending three engineers: Edgar Mujuni, Derick Tebusweke, and Bonny Omara, to obtain training in satellite design, build, test, launch and operation.

“Uganda is also setting up an earth station at Mpoma, Mukono for command, control, and management of our satellite here in Uganda by Ugandans,” Dr Musenero said.  

Dr Musenero said the launch is a complex and costly process which can’t be rushed. She said Uganda had not paid money for the launch, except for training the engineers and renovating the centre in Mukono.

Dr Musenero did not give the exact amount of money spent on the project, but previous reports from the government indicate that around Shs7 billion has been invested towards this innovation, a development that has attracted mixed reactions from the public.