The South African government has scheduled the launch of a domestically built Earth observation satellite for December aboard a Russian submarine-launched converted missile stationed in the Barents Sea, South African Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena said.

In a July 31 address, Mangena said the 80-kilogram satellite, now named Sumbandilasat, has been funded by South Africa’s defense, communications, agriculture and science and technology ministries.

The Science and Technology Ministry has coordinated the total investment of about 26 million rand ($3.8 million) for construction of the satellite by SunSpace and Information Systems of Stellenbosch. The spacecraft will carry an optical sensor capable of distinguishing objects with a diameter of 6.25 meters and is expected to operate for three years in a near-polar low Earth orbit at 500 kilometers in altitude.

The satellite will carry a 25-gigabyte onboard memory.

SunSpace includes several program managers involved in the SunSat satellite program. The small Sunsat satellite was launched in 1999 aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket as part of a cooperative program with NASA.

The program also includes satellite-technology training performed at the University of Stellenbosch. South Africa’s Satellite Application Centre will be responsible for operating the satellite in orbit and collecting the imagery.

The Science and Technology Ministry, in presenting its 2006 budget in May, said similar satellite-observation programs in Algeria and Nigeria could help promote an African resource-management constellation for disaster mitigation and agricultural monitoring.

“Space assets like satellites are no longer a matter of prestige for any country, but have become essential tools,” Mangena said in his address outlining the Sumbandilasat project. “[The ministry] sees this as the beginning of a long-term space program.”

Mangena said the government has agreed to establish a space agency.