South African enterprise Space Advisory Company (SAC), part of the Somerset West, Western Cape province-based SCS Aerospace Group, has supplied a key component for a joint Dutch-Chinese science payload on China’s recently launched Chang’e-4 spacecraft. The component is a digital controller unit, integrated into the Netherlands-China Low Frequency Explorer (NCLE) payload.
“The controller unit supplied by us forms a critical part of the digital receiver system for the NCLE instrument,” explained SAC CEO Duncan Stanton. “The instrument was built by the Radboud Radio Lab from the Radboud University, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, and Innovative Solutions in Space in Delft.”
While the primary mission of the Chang’e-4 will be to act as a communications relay platform, the NCLE will focus on the far past of the universe. “The instrument has a primary science objective to detect low frequency 21-cm hydrogen line emissions from the ‘dark ages’ period of the universe before stars began to shine,” he elucidated.
Because of the nature of the spacecraft’s primary mission, the SAC’s digital controller unit will probably become the first South African-manufactured space component to go beyond the Moon. Chang’e-4 will act as the relay platform between Earth and a Chinese lunar lander and rover which will be landed on the far (popularly called the dark) side of the Moon later this year. This will be an unprecedented mission.
To be able to execute this mission, Chang’e-4 must occupy a stable orbit at a point of low gravity designated the Second Earth-Moon Lagrange Point (or E-M L2). This is between 60 000 km and 80 000 km beyond the Moon. The spacecraft, launched on May 21, should reach this point by the end of this month.
“We are ecstatic to be part of such a unique mission and especially proud of our engineering team who proved themselves to be world-class by meeting the ambitious timeline and performance requirements of the project,” affirmed Stanton. “We may just have embarked on flying the South African flag the furthest ever.”
SCS Aerospace is Africa’s largest private-sector satellite design and manufacturing group. It has more than 25 years of experience in the sector.