Tunisia is the first country in the Maghreb and the sixth in Africa to manufacture its own satellite, according to the specialized site Space in Africa. South Africa, Egypt or Ghana, among others, have joined this very closed club. Challenge One is the first African satellite to date 2021, bringing the total number of African satellites to 43. Only one satellite was launched by the continent in 2020, while eight were launched in 2019.
The launch by the Soyuz-2 rocket took place in the early hours of Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was originally scheduled for last Saturday, the date of the 65th anniversary of Tunisian independence, but rocket fire obeying so many technical and meteorological constraints (as was the case) that the firing schedule is rarely respected. It was put into orbit at 10:20 UTC.
A satellite made 100% locally
The take-off was monitored from Tunis by Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed at the premises of TelNet, the Tunisian private aerospace and telecommunications company. “Our real wealth is the youth who can face obstacles”, said Mr. Saïed, stressing that Tunisia, entangled in a social and political crisis, did not lack resources but “national will”. Several thousand engineers leave Tunisia each year to work abroad. The Challenge One team was notably supported by expatriate Tunisian engineers, one of whom took part in the recent NASA mission to Mars. The launch of this satellite made in Tunisia is a strong signal for the national scientific community. It should be noted that TelNet controls both the construction of a satellite, but also its operation from the central space operations and satellite control room. Only the launch into orbit has been negotiated with the Russian operator of commercial Soyuz-2 rockets, GK Launch Services.
Challenge One belongs to the class of nanosatellites, weighing around 10 kg, and therefore inexpensive to launch (8,000 to 10,000 euros per kg). It targets a cutting-edge telecommunications market with the Internet of Things. Thermometers, hygrometers or connected pollution sensors, localization microprocessors, this experimental satellite is intended to collect the data collected by these devices in order to have access to it in real time, even in a land area without Internet coverage. It must have a transmission capacity of 250 kb / s over 550 km, according to TelNet. It is one of the first to use in space a data transmission protocol already used on Earth, called LoRa, which allows existing objects to be connected via satellite by only changing the antenna. It is in a way a demonstrator intended to validate technologies, because the results of the Challenge ONE by Telnet will then be used to create a constellation of 30 satellites.
The Tunisian satellite was not alone during the firing of Soyuz-2. Another SIMBA (System for Improving Monitoring of the Behavior of Wild Animals) nanosatellite has also been launched alongside it. The SIMBA satellite project team includes students from Sapienza University in Rome, Tel Aviv University (Israel) and University of Nairobi (Kenya). SIMBA will follow the behavior of Kenya National Park animals in their natural habitat. For this purpose, special sensors must be placed on certain animals of various species and sizes (from birds to large mammals), and the small satellite will relay information on their migration.