• SpaceX, the company created by SA-born Elon Musk, is due to launch three South African satellites this evening.
  • The nanosat constellation will give South Africa the infrastructure to directly monitor shipping traffic in its territorial waters.
  • The satellites are from a Cape Peninsula University of Technology and French project, and follow on previous cubesat projects.
  • The SpaceX rocket is the company's third "rideshare", with 105 spacecraft aboard.
  • For more stories go to

On Thursday night, the rocket company created by South African-born Elon Musk, is due to launch a set of tiny South African satellites into orbit, helping to create the infrastructure to monitor shipping off SA's coast.

SpaceX's Transporter-3 mission, its third "rideshare" into low Earth orbit, has a launch window starting at 17:25 South African time. There is a backup window, at the same time, on Friday.

A little over an hour after launch, it is due to release the three components of the MDASat-1 constellation, made by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

MDAsat release

The constellation is named for the Maritime Domain Awareness project, which will monitor shipping in South Africa's exclusive economic zone by way of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) radio system.

At present, South Africa depends on third-party foreign providers for AIS data. Under Operation Phakisa, the government's efforts to better economically exploit the oceans, changing that became a priority.

Government has described the launch as a "a significant milestone", with R27 million from the Department of Science and Innovation put behind MDASat-1. 

The final constellation is due to consist of nine cubesats.

The satellites came out of a programme of the French South African Institute of Technology (F'SATI) at CPUT, styled as a human capital development initiative.

In 2013 CPUT produced the ZACube-1, and in 2018 ZACube-2. MDASat-1 is the first South African mini-constellation.

Transporter-3 will be carried by a re-usable Falcon 9, in what has now become a standard approach for the company since SpaceX pioneered re-usable rockets.

SpaceX will be streaming the launch live, starting 15 minutes before launch, so not much after 17:00, here:

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.