South Africa has a rich tradition in space technology and infrastructure and continues to be a global player, says Sandile Malinga.
Pretoria - South Africa’s rich tradition in space, dating back to the 1950s, has positioned it as an active participant in the global space arena and a country with unique space infrastructure.
A national space agency was established in 2010 to provide for the promotion and use of space and co-operation in space-related activities, foster research in space science, advance scientific engineering through human capital and support the creation of an environment conducive to industrial development in space technologies within the framework of national government policy.
South Africa has also successfully launched three satellites in the past – SunSat, SumbandilaSat and TshepisoSat.
We have supported numerous international launches for other space agencies and countries.
We have also provided and assisted in collaborative research with various universities, organisations and agencies around the world. Training in areas of remote sensing, Earth observation and space science have been made available on the continent through these partnerships.
South Africa used to have launch and test facilities for missions. These facilities are in need of upgrading to get us up to the global standard and investments are being made to ensure we do so to compete internationally. We have, unfortunately, lost necessary skills in some areas of the space programme which are being addressed through skills development initiatives to ensure sustainability of the space programme for South Africa.
South Africa has a reputation for providing a high standard of service in various areas of space activity.
These include the success rate for launch and satellite support, research output as part of a global knowledge contributor on space science-related topics and effective processing of Earth observation data for use by government departments in delivering service delivery requirements.
Space science has always played a role in creating an interest in science among students and continues to be an area that could assist in driving up the number of science and maths graduates.
Global knowledge being acquired from the study of the Earth and planets within the universe and their associated space technologies is driving knowledge generation, technological innovation and global competitiveness which is aspirational for developing space agencies and countries around the world.
Space is an expensive investment and, to position the country as an equal player among our global partners, a considerable investment will need to be made to ensure the full benefit of space is brought back to our citizens.
The SA National Space Agency (Sansa) has made valuable contributions towards the global scientific knowledge of understanding our existence on Earth, effects of the Sun on our lives as well as the impact humanity has on the planet.
Since Sansa began operating, the agency has acquired 112 000 satellite images and 6.6 terabytes (TB) of scientific data, distributed 340 000 images and 4TB of data and trained 220 students and published 110 scientific papers.
The development of South Africa’s next Earth observation satellite is being developed for launch in 2019.
The use of satellite imagery is helping the National Planning Commission to meet the objectives of the NDP to create highly skilled, technology jobs in data systems and software engineering.
This information is also helping the Tshwane and Mangaung municipalities to exploit remote sensing data in planning for and managing the growth of informal settlements, food security, water flow, bio-diversity and conservation which is replicated in many other municipalities around the country.
Sansa also produces the “mosaic”, a comprehensive Earth Observation map of South Africa, which provides a valuable information source for all of government.
Sansa works with the SA Weather Service to anticipate floods before they happen and the National Disaster Management Centre to ensure a model is developed to identify areas at risk of being flooded.
From our programmes, we are able to provide geo-spatial and geo-space information that is used for rural development and urban planning, navigation and communication. On the African continent, Sansa contributes to African Resource Management Constellation which is a collaborative project in partnership with Algeria, Kenya and Nigeria to build and deploy satellites for the monitoring of natural resources for better management on the African continent. Internationally, we work with various partners within Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa business communities), Europe, Africa and America. We have a number of memorandums of understanding that target projects of mutual benefit.
* Dr Sandile Malinga is chief executive of Sansa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.