SA, Russia mend space fences

Johannesburg, 27 May 2008

SA and Russia will soon sit down to restart talks to launch this country's second indigenous satellite, Sumbandilasat, says the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

This after the department announced in February that it was seeking a new launch partner for the low-orbiting satellite that should have been launched into space in December 2006.

The departure was moved several times and eventually "postponed indefinitely because of administrative problems on the side of its current launch partner, Roskosmos (the Russian Federal Space Agency)", the DST said at the time.

But Russia may now again be a preferred partner after a meeting on Friday between South African foreign affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Russian natural resources minister Yury Trutnev. The two have reportedly set July as the deadline "to finish consultations to find the solution to the problems connected to the launch of the satellite", Business Day reports.

A Roskosmos spokesman could not comment on whether Roskosmos had participated in the talks with Dlamini-Zuma, nor what had been agreed.

DST spokesperson Kristin Klose says the news is "definitely positive and will hopefully lead to a launch sooner rather than later".

She could not comment on the state of talks with India and China, the two countries identified in February as most likely to launch Sumbandilasat.

The satellite is part of a multimillion-rand, national space programme developed by the DST. Once in low earth orbit, it will serve as a research tool to support, among other things, the monitoring and management of disasters such as the extent of floods, oil spills and fires.

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