Marcus Watkins, director of the Nasa management office, signs an agreement with Sansa chief executive Dr Valanathan Munsami to look at the possibility of a potential ground station in South Africa. Picture: SANSA
Marcus Watkins, director of the Nasa management office, signs an agreement with Sansa chief executive Dr Valanathan Munsami to look at the possibility of a potential ground station in South Africa. Picture: SANSA

Historic agreement might see deep space ground station in Matjiesfontein

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Jun 14, 2020

Share this article:

Cape Town - The small town of Matjiesfontein in the Central Karoo could be South Africa’s Cape Canaveral after an historic agreement between the country’s space agency and that of the US. The agreement will see the country's first deep space ground station supporting human space-flight missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

The Cabinet recently approved the partnership between the SA National Space Agency (Sansa) and Nasa, which makes Matjiesfontein the latest addition to Nasa’s existing network of ground stations located in the US, Spain and Australia.

The Cabinet statement said: “The station will benefit South Africa in, among others, the development of scarce skills and growth of the science, engineering, technology and innovation sector.

“It will also provide opportunities to feed the knowledge economy, and increase the national research output in space science and technology.”

Matjiesfontein may one day have a Nasa station in the area, which experts believe will inspire South Africans interested in space. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Earlier in the year, Nasa and Sansa signed the study agreement that led to the Cabinet’s approval of a fully fledged venture at the end of May.

Director of the Nasa management office Marcus Watkins said: “Having worked with the South African government on numerous projects in the past, it is fitting to collaborate with Sansa.”

Sansa chief executive Valanathan Munsami said: “Continuous R&D are vital in any industry for it to thrive. At the rate and pace the space industry is developing, it’s appropriate for Sansa to partner with Nasa.”

The South African station will complement the other three sites and provide improved coverage and redundancy for critical mission support. Sansa would operate, maintain and manage the station.

Nasa said: “The Deep Space Network supports Nasa and non-Nasa missions that explore the furthest points of our solar system.

“The diameter of the network's antennas range in size from 34 to 70metres, equivalent to the height of a 20-storey building. The dishes need to be large enough to capture the faint signals sent from millions, even billions, of miles away.”

Previously, South Africa and Nasa collaborated on what is now the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, originally built in 1961 by Nasa as a tracking station for its probes that were being sent to explore space beyond Earth's orbit. It was known as the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility.

The facility was operated by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for Nasa until its closure in 1974. It became a radio astronomy observatory initially operating under the CSIR, then the Foundation for Research Development, which became the National Research Foundation in 1999.

@MwangiGithahu

[email protected]

Cape Argus

Share this article: