Pandor outlines space objectives

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SA wishes to capture a share of the global market for small to medium-sized space systems.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress, in Cape Town this week, science and technology minister Naledi Pandor explained the country's intention is to expand its investment in micro satellites, building on the existing SumbandilaSat platform.

She said this is the first core objective set by the National Space Strategy.

The Sumbandila satellite was designed and built in SA by SunSpace, a company that was spun out of Stellenbosch University.

The satellite has been problematic and has not been contactable from the ground station since August.

Government is considering acquiring SunSpace, which Pandor said has secured orders from international clients for satellites and subsystems, and has also demonstrated it can train engineers in other emerging space nations.

The SA National Space Agency is also initiating plans to develop the country's next satellite locally, at an estimated cost of R400 million.

Unique facilities

Pandor says South African universities are also providing training in space science and technology to students from elsewhere in Africa.

“In the field of satellite development, SA possesses some space facilities that are unique in Africa. These include a satellite assembly, test and integration facility, and a launch facility.

“SA is ready to collaborate with other African space-faring nations and to offer its experiences and facilities to those African countries that wish to develop their indigenous space capabilities.”

African collaboration

The second objective set out in the strategy is to improve decision-making through the integration of space-based systems with ground-based systems for providing data, said the minister.

“Our space strategy complements our national Earth Observation Strategy (2007), which coordinates all the earth observation activities of the government, science councils and academic institutions.”

She added that both these strategies serve a number of different government departments through the provision of timely and relevant data.

“Satellites don't stop at national boundaries, and they can be used by multiple states in cooperation to address issues of trans-frontier or regional interest. This is the inspiration for the African Resource Management (ARM) Constellation of satellites.”

The basic idea behind the ARM concept is that several African countries each contribute one satellite to the constellation, but can access data from all the other satellites as well.

It is being led by Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya and SA, but is open to other interested African countries to join.

Telecoms capability

The space strategy's third objective is to develop applications for the provision of geospatial, telecommunications, timing and positioning products and services.

“Here we are working to develop our capabilities in earth observation, communication and position, timing, and navigation. These are particularly important.”

Pandor also said space science clearly plays a huge role in the process of understanding climate change, its causes and consequences.

“We are particularly interested in SA in telemedicine and tele-education, and we have only just begun to tap the possibilities.”

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