Cabinet approves Space Bill

Johannesburg, 07 Dec 2007

Cabinet has approved the National Space Agency Bill, which clears the way for the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to publish the draft law in the Government Gazette and invite public comment.

Once through Parliament, the law will create an enabling framework for a South African Space Agency that will coordinate and implement the country`s space and technology programmes. This includes the country`s fledgling satellite endeavour and its drive to host the $1.6 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio-telescope.

In the meantime, the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill, tabled in the National Assembly in May, will clear Parliament early next year. The Bill is seen as crucial to the country winning the IT-intensive SKA bid.

A site for the SKA, and its precursor, the Meerkat, has been identified to the northwest of Carnarvon, in the Northern Cape. The Bill, when it becomes law, will allow science and technology minister Mosibudi Mangena to declare the site a protected area.

The Bill says this will ensure "geographic areas in the Republic, which are suitable for astronomy and related scientific endeavours due to, among other things, atmospheric transparency, low levels of light pollution, low population density or minimal radio frequency interference, are protected, preserved and properly maintained".

This will include steps to restrict light pollution and radio frequency (RF) emissions. Transnet told both the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces that it had rail links in the area and used RF technology there that would cost R200 million to replace.

The DST says it is discussing the matter with, among others, Transnet`s owner, the Department of Public Enterprises.

Satellite delay

Meanwhile, there is still no word regarding the next scheduled launch date for the country`s second satellite, Sumbandilasat.

The satellite was due for launch last December from a Russian submarine, in the Barents Sea, near the North Pole. However, this was delayed to Easter, then to mid-June and now to a date yet to be determined.

The DST earlier this year said Russia had asked government to postpone the planned shipment of the satellite to the country "pending the finalisation of official documentation in Russia".

The 80kg micro-satellite was built by Sun Space and Information Systems (SunSpace), at a cost of R11 million. Most of this was provided by the state. "Sumbandilasat" is a composite word, combining the Venda for "lead the way" with "sat" for satellite. It is SA`s second indigenous satellite, the first having been SunSat, also built by SunSpace.

SunSat was launched in February 1999 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, on a Delta II rocket. It had a 23-month operating life and ceased functioning in 2001.

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