Innovus e-news 24th edition

April 2014

New funding for QB50 gives SU space project the lift-off

The Electrical Systems Laboratory (ESL) in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU) and the Surrey Space Centre have been working together on the QB50 project for some time. The ESL develops and builds satellite control system units for the QB50 project. A recent financial injection will enable the ESL to share its knowledge by building 15 control units for participants in the project, which in turn will assist in financing SA's own satellite, ZA-AeroSat.

The QB50 project is an international network of 50 CubeSats (50 nano-satellites, each measuring about 10cmx10cmx20cm) that will be launched in January 2016 to gather multipoint, in situ measurements of the lower thermosphere, between 200 km and 350 km above the earth. This project is part of the European Space Agency (ESA)'s atmospheric modelling research to improve predictions of what happens to space objects as they enter the earth's atmosphere.

As the ESL enjoys wide recognition internationally in the field of innovative small satellite orientation control systems, the ESL team was requested to deliver 15 control units (QB50 ADCS [Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem] bundles) to other satellites on the QB50 project. The ESL accordingly provides assistance where other participants have insufficient experience of satellite control systems, as keeping a satellite constantly within 10 degrees of the orbital inclination is a major challenge.

The 15 control units (QB50 ADCS bundles), fully developed at the ESL, will be delivered to the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics (VKI) in Belgium, together with certain software provided with the assistance of the Surrey Space Centre in England, for further distribution to other selected project participants. The first three control units have already been delivered to the satellite company ISIS in the Netherlands, who in May 2014 will be launching two pilot QB50 satellites as a test run prior to the QB50 mission.

The funding to the ESL makes it possible for the team to supply a satellite for QB50. Weighing only 2 kg, this CubeSat ZA-AeroSat is Africa's only satellite in the QB50 project and is currently being manufactured at the ESL.

According to Professor Herman Steyn who heads the project, ZA-AeroSat will also afford them the opportunity to demonstrate aerodynamic stabilisation of a satellite in practice for the very first time. "The antennas at the back of the satellite will be used in the same way as the plumes of a shuttlecock, partially and passively to stabilise the satellite," explains Prof Steyn. This is made possible through greater atmospheric density at the low orbital heights of the QB50 project.

The ESL has developed the ZA-AeroSat's on-board computer (CubeComputer) and the orientation control system (CubeSense and CubeControl) locally and has tested it for use in space (see Figure 3). These ESL CubeSat components are currently being sold online at the CubeSatShop ( and by Innovus's online satellite component shop at ( As an additional experiment, a new ESL star camera sensor (CubeStar) will be flown in order to have it qualify for use in space.

The ESL team is very excited about the QB50 project, as this involves groundbreaking work for South Africa's space exploration efforts. Historically, only major contenders at best were able to take on such projects.

Tracking your daily travels and activities

Do you want to know the size of your transport carbon footprint? And how many trees you should plant to offset your footprint? Or the carbon tax you should pay because of your daily travelling habits? Then start tracking yourself with DynaTrack, the first app of its kind in South Africa that uses the GPS system of a smartphone to track people's daily activities and travels.

DynaTrack is the brainchild of transport economists at Stellenbosch University's Department of Logistics. It is used as part of on-going research into transport and commuter route planning and transport mode choice. The data collected provides detailed information about the routes which are frequented, why people follow specific routines, and which modes of transport are being used.

"After all, if you can measure it, you can plan and manage it," says project leader Prof. Stephan Krygsman of the Department of Logistics at Stellenbosch University.

Traditional methods of data collection about commuting habits rely on people having to fill in sometimes cumbersome daily travel diaries or questionnaires. These are often prone to errors and are not always filled in accurately, often because of language or literacy issues.

"Because of these reasons, people from lower income groups, who tend to be the main users of public transport, are often excluded from such planning exercises," this expert in transport economics adds.

"The app, on the other hand, is non-invasive and is easy to use," Prof. Krygsman explains. "You literally just need to keep your cell phone in your pocket, and all the work gets done for you."

He stresses that people's movements can only be tracked if they have provided consent, and that third-party users are not allowed to use the data collected. All research currently being conducted is done with the full approval of participants.

The app can currently already be downloaded on devices that use Android technology and have GPS capability. Participants who sign up for the study receive an email daily or weekly detailing precisely how their carbon footprint looks like, which routes they used, how far they travel per week and how many trees they will have to plant to offset this. They may also opt to see the amount of carbon tax their travels generated.

DynaTrack is being commercialised through Innovus, the university industry interaction and innovation company of Stellenbosch University.

Media Lab rides the Bitcoin boom

In 2008 only a handful of people were experimenting with Satoshi Nakamoto's ideas of electronic currencies and distributed trust networks, but since the initial publication of his paper, these ideas have exploded into the world-wide phenomenon of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a new global electronic currency, accessible to anyone with a cellphone and an internet connection, which does not require the intervention of banks, and is now being used to pay for anything from a cup of coffee to property. This new currency can also be exchanged for traditional currencies, albeit with a wildly fluctuating exchange rate. The value of one Bitcoin has rocketed from a few cents in the early days to a recent high of around R10 000.

Bitcoin is one of the most compelling technologies to emerge from the internet era, because it leverages the power of the global online community in an entirely new way by decentralising trust. Although the identities of transacting parties are protected, every bitcoin transaction is recorded in a trustworthy public ledger (called "the blockchain") which anyone can see. No other guarantee that a transaction took place is necessary, and third-party guarantors (like banks) are no longer essential.

However, the technical mechanisms of the blockchain also allow many other human activities which require trust (other than currency exchanges) to become verified and credible, offering a non-repudiable, trustworthy record.

Over the past year, the cutting edge activity around Bitcoin has centred on the non-financial, alternative uses of the blockchain, and researchers at Stellenbosch University (SU) have been at the forefront. Prof. Gert-Jan van Rooyen, Frederick Lutz and Dr Herman Engelbrecht from the MIH Media Lab at SU have devised a way to utilise the blockchain mechanism to combat online piracy, and to offer publishers a "kinder, gentler" system of digital rights management.

"The Media Lab research group can embed watermarks in any kind of media, ranging from paper documents through to music to video, and we are proposing the embedding of a financial reward, like a portion of a Bitcoin, in media files," says Prof. van Rooyen. "When a vendor sells or rents out a video, for instance, a customer's deposit can be embedded in the media item, so that if the item is somehow obtained by someone else, they can easily extract the reward. However, because of the mechanisms of the blockchain, the vendor will immediately know when this is done, and which customer's copy has been pirated. We believe we have found a way to directly attack the economy of piracy, by embedding a 'finder's fee' into pirated media. The blockchain allows us to instantly see when such a bounty is anonymously claimed, and to identify the individual who was responsible for safekeeping of the content."

Innovus is assisting the SU researchers with the protection and commercialisation of the technology.

Major funding boost for LaunchLab

The Stellenbosch University (SU) business incubator received a major boost in February this year. The Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) Incubation Support Programme (ISP) confirmed that they would match the private sector funding confirmed by Nedbank last year for the new LaunchLab facility. The confirmation from the DTI will allow refurbishment work on over 1 000m² of warehouse space in SU's Maintenance building to begin. "If everything goes according to plan, the new incubator facility will be ready by the end of 2014," says LaunchLab Manager Philip Marais.

LaunchLab is the brainchild of Innovus, the university's industry interaction and innovation company, and was officially opened in August last year. Due to the initial uncertainty regarding funding from the DTI ISP, the LaunchLab first opened its doors in a smaller space in the Administration A building on the SU campus. Since opening its doors in August, the LaunchLab has been running at full capacity or near full capacity. "The confirmation of funding from the DTI ISP is such good news for LaunchLab staff and tenants. The 13 young companies in the LaunchLab are growing so fast and new applications for space are being received every week, so more space is an urgent need," says Philip.

The LaunchLab aims to boost entrepreneurship by providing a range of programmes that develop promising ideas into market success stories. The LaunchLab Ideas Programme offers a series of Idea Workshops to test the viability of promising business ideas. These workshops then feed into a Pitching Den where refined ideas can be formally pitched for consideration. "Participants with the best ideas pitch to an expert panel of judges who then allocate seed funding to the ideas they feel have the best chance of success," explains Philip.

The Idea Workshops and Pitching Den are open to all interested entrepreneurs. Go to to sign up for the events below and others.

  • Pitching Den: starts 8 April 2014
  • Idea Workshop: Saturday, 12 April 2014

LaunchLab also offers a host of other services and facilities. "Seed fund winners and entrepreneurs in need of space to launch or grow their business ventures are invited to join the LaunchLab Lift-off Programme," says Philip. The Lift-off Programme is a customisable programme to suit the needs of young businesses and includes coaching and mentoring, access to interns, as well as an entrepreneurship course which commences on 3 July this year.

In addition, LaunchLab Talk events are held every Friday at 1pm in the LaunchLab. These events offer the ideal opportunity to meet the entrepreneurial community and be entertained by insightful guest speakers.

Click here for facts about the LaunchLab.

New Short Courses Policy on the cards

The presentation of short courses is crucial to sharing the expertise of Stellenbosch University (SU) with the broader community. For this reason, an effective policy is needed to regulate short course aspects responsibly and fairly. It is essential that this policy is updated regularly to keep it relevant and responsive to the needs of the community.

The Short Courses Division, which resides under Innovus, is responsible for establishing, implementing and executing the existing Short Courses Policy of SU, which was approved by the SU Council in October 2007. However, following a detailed audit of the Short Courses Division by KPMG in 2009, various shortcomings were identified within the short course environment. These findings and recommendations centred on the centralisation of short course registration, student registration, invoicing, evaluation and certification requirements.

Over the past four years, the Short Courses Division has implemented extensive process-related and infrastructural changes to address the identified shortcomings with the extensive upgrade and integration of short course management systems.

"As with the implementation of any new electronic system, there have been teething problems and a few technological challenges, but feedback from SU divisions and centres in respect of the system changes has generally been positive, especially given the complexity of the integration of the electronic systems and added security measures in respect of financial and certification aspects," says Carol Kat, Senior Copyright and Short Courses Officer.

Initially SU's current Short Courses Policy was due to be revised at the end of 2010, but this was postponed to 2014 due to the implementation of the KPMG audit's findings and recommendations. A Task Team and a Reference Committee has since been established to steer and manage the policy revision process. "It is essential that campus-wide input is obtained right from the start of this process to ensure co-ownership by faculties and staff of the final policy. Wide consultation will also take place to ensure that the final policy will be comprehensive and acceptable to academic staff," adds Carol.

The new Short Courses policy is expected to be finalised by the end of the year. If you have any queries regarding short courses, please visit the Short Courses Division website or contact Carol Kat or Elmien Lovell.

Football goes from strength to strength

The Stellenbosch University (SU) Football Development Programme is going from strength to strength. The latest highlight was the Maties First team playing in the Last 32 of the prestigious Nedbank Cup for the first time ever. The beginning of this year also saw a series of international and local games as well as a football coaching course in Stellenbosch.

"We are proud of the excellent performance of our players and the dedication of our football staff. We are now also starting to reap the rewards of our Football Development Programme initiatives which Innovus, the University's university-industry interaction and innovation company, has been managing for the past year. The football programme focuses on the development of the Maties First team, the Maties club and campus football, as well as on the promotion and advancement of the surrounding football playing communities," says Anita Nel, Senior Director: Innovation and Business Development at Stellenbosch University (SU) and CEO of Innovus.

"Although the Maties First team lost the game against Bloemfontein Celtic in the Nedbank Cup, we are extremely proud of them for reaching this stage in the competition - our team is the first team from the Western Cape SAB league to qualify to participate in this round of 32 teams in this competition. Bloemfontein Celtic plays in the Professional Soccer League (PSL), three levels higher than the Maties team who plays in the SAB league. It is notable that the tickets for the match were sold out on Computicket and that Coetzenburg stadium was packed to full capacity. We want to thank all our Maties supporters for the tremendous attendance of the game and the spirit with which they supported our team," says Anita.

According to Garth le Roux, Manager of Maties Football, the score of the game was irrelevant. "The experience the young players received against a team in the top league of SA football can only be of great value to the players and the club in the future. The team now returns to their league commitments, in which they are currently the forerunners with seven wins and one draw out of a total of eight matches."

The beginning of the year kicked off with international teams PEC Zwolle, one of our partners, and Stuttgart VfB playing against local teams Ajax Cape Town and Vasco da Gama Cape Town at Coetzenburg stadium. The two international teams then tackled each other in a final match.

A coaching training course was also presented by the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) as part of their international WorldCoaches programme.

"We were proud to welcome these international and local teams to Stellenbosch. Their participation, including that of KNVB, is proof of the collaborative role football can play. We are not only bringing together the local football playing communities, but also that of the country and even the world," says Anita.

According to Anita, the year ahead will be full of exciting football initiatives, including the knockout competitions for primary and high schools and the partnerships with SuperSport and PEC Zwolle that have a few pleasant surprises in store.