South Africa, Russia sign satellite pact

27 March 2013

The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) have signed an agreement that will see the RadioAstron satellite mission collaborating with radio astronomy facilities in Africa, including the planned Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The agreement was signed on the sidelines of the 5th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Durban on Tuesday.

Launched by Roscosmos in July 2011, the RadioAstron satellite is itself armed with a radio telescope.

While the RadioAstron aerial is only 10 metres in diameter and is thus dwarfed by most ground-based radio telescopes, by combining signals with telescopes on the ground (through interferometry), RadioAstron is capable of making observations with an unparalleled level of precision.

If considered as a single, virtual telescope, RadioAstron is potentially the world’s largest radio telescope, with a “dish” measuring about 390 000 km (almost 30 times the Earth’s diameter, or about the same size as the distance between the Earth and the moon).

The RadioAstron project is an international collaboration led by the Astro Space Centre of the Lebedev Physical Institute (Russian Academy of Sciences) in Moscow. Other partners include the European Space Agency, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (USA), the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (India), and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Australia).

Telecommunications company Telkom has made an 18 metre C-Band antenna available for RadioAston tracking in South Africa.

Under the agreement signed on Tuesday, Roscosmos will provide the hardware for upgrading the South African tracking station for compatibility with RadioAstron, while Sansa will install and maintain the upgraded hardware and operate the tracking station.

Speaking after the signing, South African Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said the 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”.

Sansa CEO Sandile Malinga said the agreement paved the way for South Africa and Russia to work together on the development of science and space technologies.

In 2006, the South African and Russian governments signed an agreement to cooperate on the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.

SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter