`Satellites more than a useful tool`


By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 14 Jul 2009

Remote sensing is no longer merely useful; it has become crucial in ensuring mankind`s survival. That`s the word from science and technology minister Naledi Pandor.

She addressed the 2009 International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, at the University of Cape Town, yesterday.

Pandor said satellites are now at the core of worldwide communications, global positioning systems and data gathering on topics as vital as climate change and global warming.

"With the Earth experiencing devastating natural disasters - hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves - remote sensing is no longer merely useful, but has become crucial in ensuring our survival."

Pandor also confirmed SA`s second satellite, Sumbandilasat, will be launched next month.

"The main objectives of this programme are to strengthen the technological capabilities and space resources that exist in SA, to develop capacity in satellite engineering, and to provide earth observation data for a wide range of applications," she added.

"The development of Sumbandilasat offers our country and region a number of advantages, including scientific and economic growth, and information to use for sustainable development, security and planning."

But more than the technology, "what we need is the capacity to collect, analyse and disseminate earth observation data," Pandor stressed.

"This capacity is being developed in no small part thanks to the Group on Earth Observation`s Capacity Building Committee. Under this committee is GEONETCast, a global network of satellite-based data dissemination systems that provides space-based, airborne and in-situ data, metadata and products to users worldwide.

"In Africa, the proposed African Resource Management Constellation is a step in the right direction," she said.

Pandor explained this was a continental initiative to provide earth observation imagery to facilitate the continent`s response to drought, flooding, outbreaks of fire, water scarcity, the spread of infectious diseases, the destruction of ecosystems, water degradation and air pollution.

"Long-term weather predictions will also greatly assist the agricultural sector to improve food security," the minister said.

"With space science and technology identified as a specific cluster in the African Union/Nepad Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action, we hope that more African countries will commit to this and related initiatives."

Pandor also expressed her appreciation to Brazil and the People`s Republic of China. She thanked them for their generosity in allowing the Satellite Application Centre of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to receive earth observation data free of charge from the China-Brazil Earth Resource Satellite 2B, and to distribute it to the rest of the African continent.