Cape Town - Rough weather can wreak havoc – and so can weather in space when it interferes with the satellites that control communication and navigation on Earth.
The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) has unveiled a new high-frequency digital radar array that monitors space weather and can help predict extreme activity in the sun.
It forms part of an international web of more than 30 radar systems called the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN).
Sansa, based in Hermanus, hosts Africa’s only space weather monitoring centre.
Chief executive Sandile Malinga said: “The agency’s new radar not only marks a milestone for national and international space weather research, but it has provided a unique platform for developing skills in space science and technology.”
With an increasing amount of technology outside the protection of our atmosphere, space weather research has become a global priority.
Lee-Anne McKinnell, a doctor of space science at Sansa, said: “Communication and navigation technology, town planning, resource and disaster management are highly dependent on satellites operating in our space environment. Understanding this environment has become vital to protect technology in space and on Earth from the devastating effects of space weather.”
The radar system will soon be shipped to Antarctica, where it will be installed at a research base. The Antarctic is a prime spot for space weather research because Earth’s magnetic field lines converge at the poles and act as a funnel channelling space plasma into the atmosphere.
It was built in Hermanus to give Sansa the opportunity to develop a radio frequency laboratory and take advantage of training opportunities.
“Through the development of the SuperDARN Radar, Sansa is able to provide a state-of-the-art radar platform for space science research to take place nationally and internationally, further enhancing South Africa as global space player,” McKinnell said. - Cape Argus