SA, Russia sign RadioAstron accord

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The SA National Space Agency (SANSA) and its counterpart, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), signed a satellite agreement on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit.

The signing of the RadioAstron agreement, which will see SA and Russia working together on the development of science and space technologies, coincides with Russian president Vladimir Putin's visit to the country and has been welcomed by SA minister of science and technology, Derek Hanekom.

"This agreement not only confirms a strategic role we can play in the area of global space science and technology due to our geographic location in the Southern Hemisphere, but also provides an opportunity to use space science and technology to contribute towards socio-economic development," said Hanekom.

The RadioAstron venture follows a similar agreement in 2006, which saw the governments of SA and Russia consent to co-operate on the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The conclusion of the RadioAstron agreement has been delayed by various administrative obstacles, which required extensive renegotiations.

The RadioAstron satellite was launched by Roscosmos in 2011 and carries a radio telescope that will capture images and co-ordinates of radio-emitting objects.

The RadioAstron mission is expected to support investment in radio astronomy infrastructure in Africa, and in doing so, to contribute to capacity building and socio-economic development on the continent and will complement other radio astronomy facilities in Africa, like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

By combining signals with telescopes on the ground (through interferometry), RadioAstron can make precise observations, and if considered as a single, virtual telescope, the satellite "dish" measures about 390 000km, which is about the same size as the distance between the Earth and the moon.

The recent agreement will see Roscosmos provide the hardware for upgrading the tracking station, while SANSA will install and maintain the upgraded hardware and operate the tracking station. Telkom has made an 18-m C-Band antenna available for RadioAstron tracking and acquisition in SA.

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