Address by the Minister Naledi Pandor MP, at the launch of the South African National Space Agency and National Space Strategy, Midrand Conference Centre

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Programme Director,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to launch the National Space Strategy and the South African National Space Agency.

The space industry is now big business. It is not simply a matter of space travel, although the possibilities of space travel have excited and fascinated many of us - Mark Shuttleworth was the first African in space in 2002, barely a decade ago. No, it’s also about an industry that has enormous potential future growth.

Let me quote from the UK strategy:

“The overall world market for the Space industry is likely to grow from £160 billion in 2008 to at least £400 billion by 2030 — a 5% annual growth rate in constant 2007 values. Although we expect growth in government spending on Space to moderate, particularly in the US and Europe, whilst damage to fiscal balances is repaired, demand in commercial and security markets is forecast to grow strongly. In particular, high growth is expected in Earth Observation (EO), Global Positioning Services (GPS) applications and global internet delivery.”

Over the next five years South Africa plans to develop a formal space programme.

In the past there was little coordination of our space activities.

Under apartheid, South Africa had a space programme, but it was spread over various institutions and departments. It was discontinued in the mid 1990s, but we still have some facilities and industrial capacity, in moth balls as it were.

From 2003 government began to introduce some order into space science and exploration in order to avoid duplication of effort and funding. The culmination of this process is reached today in the release of the strategy and the announcement of the establishment of a space agency.

The National Space Strategy promotes research in astronomy, earth observation, communications, navigation and space physics; fosters international cooperation in space-related activities; and advances scientific, engineering and technological competencies through human capital development and outreach programmes. Our emphasis is on encouraging space science research and development.

The Strategy has three core objectives. The first is to capture a share in the global market for small to medium-sized space systems. Our intention is to expand our investment in “micro” satellites, building on the existing SumbandilaSat platform.

The second objective is to improve decision making through the integration of space-based systems with ground-based systems for providing data.

The third objective is to develop applications for the provision of geospatial, telecommunications, timing and positioning products and services.

The Strategy will also be important in raising the profile of careers in science and engineering. Encouraging emerging scientists to take up careers in space research is critical to the success of our space strategy.

In addition, the Strategy provides the implementation framework for a national space programme that will be undertaken by the National Space Agency.

The South African National Space Agency has three main functions - to implement a national space program; to advise the Minister of Science and Technology on strategy and programmes; and to acquire, assimilate and distribute space-derived data to various state entities. Phase 1 (1 April 2010 - 31 Mar 2011) is devoted to establishing various governance structures. Phase 2 (1 April 2011 - 31 march 2012) is for foundational operations, and Phase 3 (starting 1 April 2012) is for full implementation.

It is also worth remembering that our space strategy complements our national Earth Observation Strategy (2007) that coordinates all the earth observation activities of the government, science councils and academic institutions, among other agencies.

The National Space Strategy and SAEOS are cross-cutting in that they will assist government departments to fulfill their respective mandates through the provision of timely and relevant data.

In addition to these policy developments, SumbandilaSat was designed, developed and manufactured as part of the integrated national space programme and will serve as a technology demonstrator and a research tool to investigate the viability of affordable space technologies.

SumbandilaSat continues to generate satellite imagery at 6.25 m ground sampling distance resolution, and the data acquired will be used for agriculture and environmental monitoring in Southern Africa. In addition, there are secondary experimental payloads for the scientific community in the areas of low frequency radio waves, radiation, software defined radio, a forced vibrating string and a radio amateur transponder.

The aim of government through SumbandilaSat and future missions is to strengthen our technological capabilities and space resources thereby creating more opportunities in terms of employment and human capital development for the youth of South Africa. The successful operation of SumbandilaSat and future missions will put South Africa in a position to attract international investments that will stimulate and develop the local space industry.

In order to strengthen the space sector, my Department will be establishing a Centre of Competence in Optronics and Synthetic Aperture Radar.

It will be called a Satellite Sensor Centre of Competence. Currently, a core team is working on developing a business case to have the Centre of Competence operational by early 2011.

The Centre of Competence will:

  • Provide sustainable quality optronics and data processing support to the South African industry, in terms of innovative and qualified human resources at all levels.
  • Apply innovative technology methods and management at all levels of the satellite sensor value chain.
  • Carry collaborative and coordinated technology development towards new and innovative products.

In light of the lessons learned with the delays we experienced in the launch of SumbandilaSat, my Department is also looking at redeveloping South Africa’s launch capabilities through defining a 20 year launch plan. As early as January 2011, we plan to conduct consultative workshops with relevant stakeholders with the aim of developing this 20 year launch plan.

Our combined efforts at enhancing South Africa’s space capabilities will not only be of immense value to the scientific community in the Southern African region. Our efforts in enhancing space science and technology will also assist in addressing the persistent challenges of health care provision, water resource, agricultural mapping, and urban planning and communications.

Space science and technology is a significant contributor to sustainable development on the African continent. The launch of the National Space Agency will enable us to play a growing role in this regard.

I thank you.