Sumbandila, the second South African satellite, has taken to the skies. It was launched from a rocket in Kazakhstan on Thursday evening, and has entered orbit. The last I heard, from the SA Weather and Disaster Information Service – of all people), they were still trying to stabilise the orbit, all the equipment appears to be functioning, everything appears to indicate a successful launch.

The purpose of the satellite is for earth observation, but don’t worry, it is not quite a spy satellite. It has a resolution that can make out objects of 6.25m on the ground. The satellite has a polar orbit, with a path crossing over South Africa. The orbit is 500 – 600km about the earth, which makes it a low-earth orbit, and will be used to monitor weather such as sea and land temperatures, clouds formation, rainfall and ocean levels.

Interestingly though, this satellite has been trying to get launched since late 2006, when it was going to be launched off of a nuclear submarine, but a few problems prevented that launch from happening. The launch date has been postponed several times since then, so it is great to see an actual launch has now happened.

The satellite development was headed up by the Stellenbosch University engineering faculty. It weighs 81kg, and is 1m by 0.5m in dimensions. The cost of the satellite was R26 million.

And for those of you wondering what the name Sumbandila means, it in Venda (a local South African language) it means “lead the way”. I think that is a fitting name, and hope it does lead to more involvement in space from South Africa.