SA heads for space

The satellite, to be launched from Russia in December this year, will be used to download images of South Africa from space in an effort to help policymakers make decisions regarding infrastructure plans.

Pontsho Maruping, chief director of frontier programmes in the Department of Science and Technology, said the development of the satellite followed the launch 10 years ago of a satellite developed by a group of South African students.

She said the current micro-satellite was being “developed and manufactured” in the country by a local firm called Sunspace, and is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year.

The development of the micro-satellite is also part of bigger plans to develop a space agency responsible for promoting “cutting edge technology”, including satellite programmes that could be taken advantage of by countries in the whole of Africa.

“We hope the space agency will be off the ground within a year. It is still being planned,” Maruping said.

She said the agency would be responsible for “co-ordinating all space science and technology activities and it will support the development of new technologies”.

While the government had given the green light for the project to go ahead, it was now waiting for the Science and Technology Department to present proposals for the structure and funding of the project.

A statement issued by government communications two weeks ago said the cabinet had approved the establishment of the South African Space Agency, which would be “an institutional vehicle for the co-ordination and implementation of South Africa’s national space science and technology programmes”.

“The agency will conduct long-term planning and implementation of space-related activities in South Africa for the benefit of all citizens,” the statement said.

The space agency will co-ordinate its activities closely with the South African Council for Space Affairs and stakeholders, and would report to the Minister of Science and Technology.

The latest project will not be South Africa’s maiden cosmic venture.

“South Africa already has satellite-tracking facilities which we will have to upgrade because we will need to have our own command and control facilities.

“This will fall under the space agency,” Maruping told a local daily.

The country’s space agency will be the second on the continent, after Nigeria’s cosmic agency launched five years ago to develop satellite technology and scan for mining opportunities in the country’s vast landscape.

But Ponthso said it had never been a contest.

“This is not just about prestige.

“There is a recognition that space is an essential tool for decision-making and it is a useful tool for developing countries,” she said.

Aeronautic experts said it would take time before South Africa would be able to develop the necessary infrastructure to launch satellites from its own bases, though this would not distract the country from continuing with its programme.

“In the short term we have no plans to launch satellites from here, but we want to continue to develop satellites,” Pontsho told the Independent online last week.

August 2006
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