The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa. It undertakes directed research and development for socio-economic growth.

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May 2009 edition

Space technology

CSIR supports launch of Kepler mission

Kepler takes off from Cape Canaveral
The launch on 6 March 2009 of NASA's Kepler mission received a helping, albeit remotely located, hand from the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre. The Kepler mission is a space telescope designed to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars.

United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that operates space launch systems, was responsible for the launch and support of this mission. Given the timing and trajectory of the launch vehicle, ULA, in turn, contracted the CSIR to provide launch support from Australia - a requirement that the CSIR's tracking, telemetry and command team took in its stride.

By contracting a local mobile launch support team from Overberg Toetsbaan (OTB), the team organised support for the Florida launch of the Kepler satellite, on 7 March 2009, from Tennant Creek in Australia's Northern Territory. The Kepler mission was borne aloft aboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The CSIR's Tiaan Strydom, who deals with requirements from international clients for TT&C services, joined personnel of OTB's telemetry section at Tennant Creek, where the mobile telemetry station was operated. Strydom says, "It was great to be part of a historic scientific event of this nature." The NASA satellite, named after Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German astronomer and mathematician who is best known for discovering the laws of planetary motion, has been designed to find terrestrial planets (i.e. those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist. After deployment, the station was qualified to participate in the launch of Kepler. About one hour after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, the signal from the spacecraft was received on the horizon at Tennant Creek by the mobile telemetry system. This was vital for placing the satellite into the correct orbit.

Initial reports from NASA have indicated that all is well onboard the Kepler satellite and that it is successfully on its way to explore the universe in search of new planets.

In a related development, the CSIR's Wabile Motswasele and Asanda Ntisane, who attended a meeting of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites in early March 2009, were present at the launch of the Kepler mission in Cape Canaveral. They supplied the visuals used in this article. "The thrill of watching a live launch is hard to match," Motswasele confirms.

Enquiries: CSIR Communication

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