28 July 2006
The government has approved the establishment of the South African Space Agency to co-ordinate and implement the country’s space science and technology programmes.
The agency will work closely with the South African Council for Space Affairs and report to the minister of science and technology.
SA’s second satellite
South Africa is busy building an 80 kilogram micro satellite that will rotate 500km above the earth, as part of a national space programme developed by the government to provide the country with affordable access to space technology and data.
Expected to be launched by end of 2006, the satellite will be South Africa’s second after Sunsat. Built by Stellenbosch University staff and postgraduate students and launched into low Earth orbit by Nasa in February 1999, Sunsat remained operational for almost two years.
Although the new satellite will be of similar size to Sunsat, advances in technology mean that it will be far more capable, carrying a state-of-the-art imaging payload.
The satellite is being built by SunSpace, the company that developed out of the success of Sunsat. SunSpace is investing around R5-million in the project, which is being managed by the University of Stellenbosch.
While the university also trains postgraduate students in, and conducts research into, satellite engineering and software development, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Satellite Applications Centre will be responsible for operating, tracking and monitoring the satellite.
The costs of the project include the cost of the launch by a foreign space agency, and upgrades to the Satellite Applications Centre at Hartebeeshoek.
South Africa’s new satellite will be used to support, monitor and manage disasters such as floods, oil spills and fires.
According to the Science and Technology Department, space assets such as satellites are no longer merely a matter of prestige for a country but “have become essential tools.”
“We need to understand the earth system to improve human health, safety and welfare and to protect the environment, reduce disaster losses and achieve sustainable development,” the department said in a statement.
“Satellites are monitoring almost all aspects of the world’s climate systems,” said Professor Sias Mostert of the University of Stellenbosch. This includes measuring temperatures at sea and land, clouds and rainfall, winds, sea levels, ice cover, vegetation cover and gases.
In addition, Mostert said, town planners could use satellite images to prevent problems like traffic congestion, illegal building and too few recreational sites.
SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews