The postgraduate research capacity of the Carl and Emily Fuchs Institute for Microelectronics (CEFIM) in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology received a boost in July 2021 with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with Motseni-Hi-TechSpace (MHTS).
The agreement with MHTS, a 100% black South African start-up company, relates to the enrolment, training and supervision of South African postgraduate students (MSc and PhD) in the fields of radio frequency (RF) and microwaves, global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receivers, microwave radiometers, microwave and radio occultation (RO) antennas and beam forming, automatic identification systems and related RF systems, digital signal processing and FPGA/VHDL data processing. MHTS will support this programme financially for a period of five years from 2022, with an emphasis on the development of previously disadvantaged candidates.
Following the receipt of the funding from MHTS, UP will identify postgraduate research projects that are related to the MHTS’s GNSS RO receiver project.
This project of MHTS represents a revolution in atmospheric sounding from space, with precise, accurate and all-weather global observations/global profile. The instrument has low operational costs, involves all-weather monitoring, is insensitive to clouds, and has global coverage, high precision and absolute calibration. It is being developed for the monitoring of atmospheric parameters and weather prediction, including space weather monitoring. The GNSS receiver can be launched into space on board a low earth orbiting (LEO) satellite. Such observations provide accurate and valuable information on tropospheric moisture and temperature, even over oceans, and aid in the forecasting of tropical cyclone formation and tracking. The project was launched on 1 April 2021 and is currently in its preliminary phase.
RO receiver is regarded as the world's most accurate, precise and stable atmospheric thermometer in space, since RO has the advantage of dense coverage of the Southern Hemisphere (oceans, deserts and mountains). The data derived from the proposed system will be useful for weather prediction models, as well as severe weather forecasting, including typhoons, hailstorms and hurricanes. It is also useful for related research in the fields of meteorology, the ionosphere and climatology.
RO data can assist space weather scientists at the South African National Space Agency to perform space weather monitoring and obtain up-to-date ionospheric information. The RO data will compensate ground-based measurement systems. The day-to-day forecasting of plasma bubbles, as well as the forecasting of the day-to-day neutral wind that drives their development, has not been successfully achieved with consistency. It will also help the South African Weather Service (SAWS) improve its weather forecasting and prediction, as well as atmospheric research. From the RO data, other applications such as forecasting on seasonal and decadal time scales can derive benefit using that data. Communities such as those in the maritime, navy, aviation and agriculture sectors are secondary benefactors.
MHTS’s funding will take the form of a research support grant. This will primarily involve a student bursary, but will also make provision for prototyping, minor equipment and upgrades (if needed), provision for the candidate to attend an international conference to present their work, and a small contribution to shared laboratory expenses, including software licensing and laboratory maintenance.
Industry support in the form of bursaries and research grants, such as this, is crucial to address the current gap in human capital development that currently exists in Africa and South Africa, especially in the fields of satellite development, and payload design and integration. With its expertise and experience, MHTS is committed to training young South African engineers, scientists and data analysts in the fields of RF and microwaves, antennas, software-defined radio (SDR) and FPGA/VHDL signal processing/image processing. In collaboration with SAWS, it also trains students in the fields of meteorology, data analytics, and climate and atmospheric sciences. This enables a pipeline of skilled engineers and scientists to feed the industry.
The programme that is supported by MHTS will increase the critical mass with payload development skills. These engineers will have intimate knowledge of GNSS receivers, but more generally, will have mastered a wide range of specialised RF engineering and scientific skills. It envisages the enrolment of two to four MEng or PhD students. At the end of the programme, MHTS intends providing employment to those students trained in the value chain within the company to ensure continuity and continuous improvement, and to contribute to economic growth and job creation.
MHTS would like to develop indigenous solutions to Africa’s challenges. It wants to develop, grow and sustain Africa’s role in the space economy by working with African institutions of higher learning and companies of all sizes involved in the space value chain and industry. It hopes to inspire and encourage the next generation of space scientists and engineers, as well as all other professions that are needed to support Africa to achieve great space missions.
At the signing of the MoA, Matlou Mathapo, CEO of MHTS, said that the partnership is a significant achievement in realising important development programmes between the private sector and higher education institutions in contributing to space democratisation on the African continent.
“Today’s event comes at an important juncture, where 4IR represents a new era of innovation in technology; one that is enhancing human-machine relationships, unlocking new market opportunities, and fuelling growth across the global economy. Space has become the most critical infrastructure upon which every other infrastructure depends. I see a fantastic window of opportunity for the continent to start visioning the next generation to participate in space technology development, focusing on integrated, smart, cutting-edge solutions for Africa and participation in the space economy.
“We would like to see a continuation of our joint efforts for building a long-term and strategic partnership between MHTS and UP to create new institutional frameworks for the production, transfer and application of knowledge in the space industry. These programmes will, however, also require substantial resources and support from government.
“I look forward to the successful implementation of our MoA, and wish you all good health, happiness and success.”
We acknowledge Prof Tinus Stander, Dr Johan Schoeman, John Visagie, and Kgabo and Matlou Mathapo for facilitating the MoA.
Established in 2020, MHTS specialises in the design and development of RF and microwave subsystems, satellite transponders, inter-satellite link transceivers, advanced satellite communication systems, UAS data links, air traffic navigation and ground stations, UHF to X-band to Ka-band systems, GNSS RO systems (sensors), automatic identification systems, GNSS-R, GNSS-PRO, SDRs and electronic warfare receivers. The GNSS RO instrument provides highly accurate vertical resolution atmospheric sounding parameters for weather prediction and monitoring, and space weather monitoring.
About the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering
The Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering in the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology works to contribute to a smarter Africa and world. Our programmes in electrical and electronic engineering continue to feature at the top of all South African universities.
The Department equips prospective engineers with world-class training and knowledge in its fields of specialisation to enable them to make a meaningful contribution to our future. It produces well-rounded, industry-ready graduates with the capabilities to thrive in industry or academia. The Department’s research focuses on generating solutions to contemporary and future problems for the betterment of society at large.
The Carl and Emily Fuchs Institute for Microelectronics (CEFIM) was founded in 1981, having been established as the Institute for Microstructures in 1973. It resides within the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering (EECE) at the University of Pretoria. CEFIM hosts a wide variety of electronics research programmes, including CMOS circuit design, opto-electronics, integrated sensor microsystems, printed electronics (including the application of additive manufacturing in electronics production), microwave and mm-wave electronics and built-in self-testing. These projects find application in water quality monitoring, medical diagnostics, terrestrial communications beyond 5G, radio astronomy and aerospace systems. The institute is home to five academic staff members and 18 postgraduate students. It also has extensive facilities for electronics packaging and microwave metrology.