SANSA earns global recognition
South Africa's National Space Agency (SANSA) has been named as the regional provider of space weather information, including solar storm forecasts and warnings, for the aviation sector.
SANSA, an entity of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), was selected by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to ensure the aviation industry complies with crucial recommendations.
In regards to the selection, every aircraft flying in the continent's airspace will rely on SANSA for the space weather information it needs to submit as part of its flight plan.
Space weather, according to SANSA, describes events that happen in space, which can disrupt satellites, GPS, power grids, navigation and communication systems.
"With aviation, we consider four key risk areas - communication, navigation, avionics and radiation exposure" says Lee-Anne McKinnell, SANSA MD. "High frequency radio communication, as well as ground and air-based navigation systems, can be affected or knocked out entirely by space weather storms. Delicate electronics can also be damaged, and radiation exposure poses a hazard for crew and passengers especially for long haul flights."
After an extensive assessment process last year, SANSA earned its spot as one of two regional space weather centres. The other is a joint centre by Russia and China.
In total, the ICAO has selected five space weather centres, which includes three global and two regional centres, to provide the required services. The global centres are in the US, Pan-European Consortium for Aviation Space Weather User Services (PECASUS), which is a consortium of nine European countries, and the Australia, Canada, France and Japan consortium.
While the global centres have begun to deliver, the regional centres will have until 2022 to build the necessary capability to provide the required services. According to the DST, processes are under way to secure additional funding so that the centre is capable of managing the task that lies ahead.
The department believes the selection of the space agency enhances SA's international reputation, with the country now seen as a leading player in the space science sector.
"South Africa's designation as a regional space weather information provider will grow the science, engineering, technology and innovation sector, offering opportunities to develop scarce skills and increase national research output, while ensuring that usable products are generated from the knowledge."
SANSA has also been invited to be a collaborative partner in the PECASUS consortium.
SANSA says partnering with PECASUS will be of great benefit for the country and will provide better access to international models and expertise, as well as provide European space weather providers with an African perspective.
Recognising the need to mitigate space weather impacts on aviation, ICAO passed a recommendation in 2014 regarding the development of space weather information and its integration into international air navigation systems.
Such information can be acquired only from designated space weather information providers, which now includes SANSA.
SANSA has been developing space weather capabilities at its Hermanus facility in the Western Cape since 2010, and currently provides a space weather operational service to government, industry and the public.
Over the next few years, SANSA will be working closely with the Air Traffic Navigation Service, the South African Weather Service, and the Civil Aviation Authority and other applicable aviation partners to investigate the implications of the ICAO amendments to the South African aviation sector.
"We need to ensure the aviation industry understands the risks related to space weather, what to look out for and what to expect. SANSA will provide the necessary information to enable key decision makers to make informed decisions," says McKinnell. "The major benefit of this designation for South Africa is the access to compliant information and local training for the region."