South African Space Agency Kicks Off with Satellite Ambitions

By | December 14, 2010 | Feature, Government

[Satellite News 12-14-10] The National Space Agency of South Africa (Sansa) has begun operations, South Africa’s Minister of Science Naledi Pandor said in a statement issued Dec. 14.

Sansa opened its doors Dec. 9 with an office in Johannesburg and hopes to be fully operational by April 2012. “This agency will focus on six key areas: Earth observation, space operations, space science, space engineering, human capital development and science advancement,” Pandor said. “After several attempts to start up over the past 20 years, South Africa will finally realize its future in space.”

South Africa joins Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt on the list of African countries with space agencies. Pandor said the agency’s primary goals would be to win bids to host South Africa’s Square Kilometer Array Large Telescope and its SumbandilaSat satellite. The agency also hopes to support South African Space Portal’s efforts to host the 62nd International Astronautical Congress in Cape Town in October, marking the first time the will be held in Africa.

    The agency already has two microsatellites in orbit, which will continue to be operated by its Satellite Applications Centre based in Hartebeeshoek. The new Sansa facility will replace South Africa’s Houwteq Aerospace Facility, commissioned more than 25 years ago to create a low-orbit observational satellite for the nation’s Institute for Satellite and Software Applications.

Sansa has signed memorandums of understanding with China’s Center for Resources Satellite Data and Application and with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research and an inter-agency agreement to expand technology and space science cooperation with the Algerian Space Agency. The Chinese and Brazilian agreements will create an exchange of data between the countries, originating from a series of co-developed Earth resource satellites.

    The Sansa launch also includes the opening of South Africa’s Space Weather Operations Center of the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO) Dec. 10. HMO serves as an Earth-space science national research facility of the National Research Foundation and is one of 12 warning centers for monitoring, analyzing and modeling the interactions of the Earth and sun. 

Sansa also will join other South African government efforts working to developing the capability to launch spacecraft within five to 10 years. The agency also will help drive capital investments to South Africa’s commercial space sector “in order to build off the momentum of new business created by the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the increased presence of broadband in our commercial and enterprise markets,” said Pandor.

GSMA, an international mobile broadband industry group, expects South Africa’s mobile broadband and other related industries to generate 1.8 percent of South Africa’s total GDP and create as many as 28,000 jobs by 2015, according to a sector growth study it released in November. The South African government has set national coverage targets of universal broadband access by 2019, with at least 15 percent household penetration. 

    The South African government also has made its own investments in an attempt to boost the country’s space program, purchasing a majority share in domestic spin-off satellite development research company SunSpace in February. SunSpace, the manufacturer of South Africa’s 81-kilogram Earth observation microsatellite, Sumbandila, already was an integral part of South Africa’s space industry and was created to provide South Africa with space technology and data services.

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