SA leads world in satellite tracking

28 February 2003

South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and The Boeing Company have inaugurated the world’s first Ka band telemetry, tracking and command facility at the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre at Hartebeeshoek, north-west of Johannesburg.

Boeing, the largest aerospace company in the world, invested R45-million (US$5-million) to fund the project.

Hughes Network Systems, a world leader in broadband satellite networks, is working with Boeing to manufacture a constellation of satellites for high-speed communication.

Hughes is set to introduce their next-generation communication satellite system, dubbed Spaceway, after the launch of the first satellite later this year. The CSIR’s new antenna system is now ready to track, command and monitor the Spaceway satellites as they are placed into orbit.

Boeing and the CSIR joined forces in project managing the design and implementation of the Ka band facility. Ka band refers to very high frequencies that have not – until now – been used for operational telemetry, tracking and command tasks.

The Spaceway satellites will be launched over a period of several years and will provide bandwidth-on-demand direct to the office and home, with the initial service roll-out in the US. Boeing is erecting two other ground stations in the US to monitor and control the satellites during their 15-year design lifetime – with the CSIR station the first to be completed.

The CSIR, which falls under the department of arts, culture, science and technology, is the largest research, development and implementation technology agency in Africa, and has been providing telemetry, tracking and command support to international satellite operators and launchers for over 40 years.

The CSIR Satellite Applications Centre’s geographical location in South Africa makes it a favourable site for support of satellites launched from facilities such as Kourou, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Kennedy Space Flight Centre, and Baikonur, and for in-orbit support of low-earth orbit and geo-stationary satellites in the Africa, Europe and Middle East regions.

With the addition of the Ka band antenna, the CSIR now becomes one of the first ground stations in the world that can offer telemetry, tracking and command support from L band through to Ka band.

Speaking at the inauguration, CSIR President Sibusiso Sibisi thanked Boeing for the trust it has put in its South African partnership over these years. “Over many years, the Boeing Company has repeatedly selected the CSIR to keep a watchful eye on its own and its satellite customers’ orbiting assets”, Sibisi said.

“During the 1990s the CSIR supported Boeing’s Delta II and Delta III launch vehicles; in 2001 we modified certain of our existing systems to support the XM Radio satellites; from 1998 onwards we have rendered ground support for numerous satellites in Ku/DBS band, including PAS-10, DTV and Bonum; and in 2002 the CSIR was officially contracted to render ground support for Boeing’s new Delta IV launch vehicles.”

Boeing Africa President Walt Braithwaite said: “Our commitment to doing business on this continent was further proven when we opened extensions of our corporate offices here in South Africa and West Africa two years ago. Our relationship in Africa dates back to the late 1950s. Since then, we have continued to play a role in transfer of technology here and on the rest of the continent.”

Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Minister Ben Ngubane said the Ka band satellite-tracking antenna “will benefit us in a myriad of ways. Its applications will be most obvious in the field of Earth observation, a key technology in the development of southern Africa and elsewhere.

“The inauguration of the new satellite-tracking antenna represents a milestone in the development of our research infrastructure and in our work towards unlocking our full scientific and technological potential.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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