South Africa launches space agency

10 December 2010

South Africa’s new national space agency will coordinate the country’s major space projects, promote space science research, develop related engineering and technological capacity, and devise and implement a national space programme.

South Africa has some of the best space infrastructure in Africa, and is already heading some notable space projects, including Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array, the Southern African Large Telescope, and the SumbandilaSat satellite.

The South African Space Agency (Sansa) will become the umbrella body that coordinates all these projects, while integrating the country’s existing science and technology institutions, such as the Satellite Applications Centre run by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research at Hartebeesthoek, west of Pretoria.

Space industry ‘big business’

Speaking at the launch of the agency and the National Space Strategy in Johannesburg on Thursday, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said the space industry had enormous potential for growth.

Space science and technology were significant contributors to sustainable development on the African continent, and the South African Space Agency had a crucial role to play in this, Pandor said.

Growing South Africa’s space capabilities would not only be of huge value to the scientific community in the southern African region, but would also help in addressing the challenges of health care provision, water resources, agricultural mapping, and urban planning and communications.

The South African Space Agency would help develop a formal space programme over the next five years, Pandor said.

It will promote research in the areas of astronomy, earth observation, communications, navigation and space physics, while growing scientific, engineering and technological competencies through human capital development and outreach programmes.

Boosting South Africa’s international profile

The agency will also promote cooperation on space-related projects between South Africa and the international community, with an eye to fast-tracking South Africa’s role in international space activities.

At Thursday’s launch, Sansa signed memorandums of understanding relating to data access with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research and the China Centre for Resources Satellite Data and Application.

According to the International Astronautical Federation, there are about 74 companies that trade in the aerospace and defence sector in South Africa.

The federation will hold its 62nd International Astronautical Congress in Cape Town in October 2011 – the first time the event will take place on African soil.

In September, the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town was chosen to host the International Astronomical Union’s Office for Astronomy Development, which will play a key role in taking astronomy to the developing world.

South Africa beat about 20 countries in its bid to host the office, which will play a central role in coordinating and managing International Astronomical Union educational activities, as well as in recruiting and mobilising volunteers.

SAinfo reporter and BuaNews