The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande on the occasion of the launch of SANSA space weather capability in Hermanus Western Cape - 3 November 2022

Programme Director, the Director General of the Department of Science and Innovation, Dr Phil Mjwara;

The Overstrand Local Municipality Mayor, Dr Annelle Rabie;

SANSA Board Chairperson, Mr Patrick Ndlovu;

SANSA CEO, Ms Andiswa Mlisa;

SANSA Managing Director for Space Science, Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell;

Officials from the Ministry and the Department of Science and Innovation;

Invited guests;

Members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen


Good morning


I am delighted to be joining you today as we launch South Africa’s new 24-hour, state-of-the-art regional space weather centre here at Hermanus.


The launch of this centre today is truly a historic development, and a further illustration of the excellence we have in science as South Africa. It is yet another demonstration that the Department of Science and Innovation, together with its agencies, continue to respond to the socio-economic challenges of our country by using science, technology and innovation as a catalyst and catalyser for economic development.


As part of our firm and determined support to the Government’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Programme (ERRP), we built a  long-term national capacity to deal with COVID-19 and future pandemic threats, we secured higher levels of public and private investment in South African RDI, and we have continued to support the revitalisation of existing sectors and industries.


At the same time, we continue with research and development to modernise existing sectors such as mining, through support for research and development (R&D), both to ensure a safer working environment for miners and to increase the lifespan of mining in the country.


Indeed, this week has been another (unofficial) science week in our country. On Tuesday I opened the CSIR Biennical Conference on Science, under the theme “Harnessing research, development and innovation for a robust South African economy”. Today we are launching the international space weather centre, and the only one in the African continent. On Friday, we are holding the second ever meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation, to take forward our Decadal Plan! An example of our determination to use and support science as an integral part of our developmental agenda.


SANSA background


Back to our launch today, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) is an entity of government and as such, it has a responsibility to the citizens of South Africa in contributing towards addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality and promoting the development and security of all South Africans.


Launched on the 9th December 2009, SANSA key strategic outcomes  are aligned to the following Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) strategic outcomes as provided in the Department’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan:


  • A transformed, inclusive, responsive, and coherent NSI;


  • Increased knowledge generation and innovation output;


  • Human capabilities and skills for the economy and for development;


  • Knowledge utilisation for economic development – focused on revitalising existing industries and stimulating R&D led industrial development;


  • Knowledge utilisation for inclusive development; and


  • Innovation in support of a capable and developmental State.


SANSA’s mandate is to provide for the promotion and use of space and co-operation in space-related activities, foster research in space science, advance scientific engineering, develop human capabilities in space science, and support the creation of an environment conducive to industrial development in space technologies within the framework of national government policy.


It is therefore expected that SANSA should focus and optimise its resources to maximise the benefits of space services and applications in society.


As an innovation-oriented country, South Africa is hugely reliant on space-based applications and services, and therefore the establishment of SANSA is strategically important for addressing our local challenges and improving the lives of our citizens, whilst at the same time positioning ourselves to contribute towards trans-national and planetary scale cooperation and collaborations to ensure the sustainability and prosperity of global humanity. It is in this context where our strategic collaboration with bilateral and multilateral agencies is absolutely crucial. agencies to partner with us.


A decade ago, as South Africa, we had a number of organisations working in isolation on various space-related products and services, for example, the Satellite Applications Centre aligned to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory in the fold of the National Research Foundation.  


We therefore had to rationalise and realign these two within SANSA's four strategic programmes – Space Science, Space Operations, Space Engineering and Earth Observation.


Through SANSA, we now have managed to improve coordination of South Africa’s space arena to maximise the benefits of current and planned space activities, avoid or minimise duplication of resources and efforts, and organise existing initiatives, programmes, and institutions into a coherent network for all providers and users of space systems.


We also managed to promote capacity building initiatives, both as a means towards effective participation in the space arena, as well as to develop capacity in space science and technology, and science and technology in general.


More importantly, we have also facilitated the provision of appropriate and adequate space capabilities to support South Africa’s domestic and foreign policy objectives. During the recent floods in KwaZulu Natal and we provided satellite imagery to the National Disaster Management Centre and COGTA to support in disaster response and understanding the level of damage. We also provided the same services at the Jagersfontein mine waste dam that collapsed. 


The space weather capability that we are launching today is a direct response to our good safety track record that led to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) selecting SANSA as one of the two regional centres to provide space weather services, including solar storm forecasts and warnings to the global aviation sector.


Guiding policy on science, technology and innovation


Ladies and gentlemen


As you may know, in the South Africa context, in 2019, Cabinet approved the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, which sets the long-term policy direction to boost economic development and inclusive growth.


This White Paper is now our principal policy guiding the national system of innovation (NSI) and commits South Africa to further the role of STI in economic and social development, emphasising the core themes of inclusivity, transformation and partnerships. 


We are implementing our White Paper on Science Technology and Innovation (STI) through the Decadal Plan (2021-2031), which is aligned to the National Development Plan.


Our launch here today, is part of our overall strategy to position science, technology and innovation at the centre of our developmental agenda.


The Project


In 2019, SANSA developed a business case for the establishment of this space weather services capability.


The establishment took three (3) years and building on the existing space weather research and development legacy in SANSA.


It included infrastructure development, instrumentation deployment, product and service development, and skills capability development.


The process of establishment of the new Space Weather Centre was completed by end of September 2022.


Our total investment in this capability amounted to R107.5 million over the three years which included a ring-fenced establishment grant of R70.89 million received from my Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and R 36.6 million invested directly by SANSA from this Hermanus Facility.


SANSA successes


Ladies and gentlemen


Significant strides have since been made by the SANSA since its formative years.


For its eleventh (11th) year, SANSA’s continue to implement its strategic programmes which led to its researchers making significant contributions to global scientific knowledge in space and earth sciences while government departments and customers benefited from the provision of high-quality satellite data, products, and services.


Some of the key successes of SANSA include:


  • The establishment of a Space Infrastructure Hub (SIH) which marked a key milestone in the entity’s infrastructure development objectives, skills, capacity development, and job creation within the space industry;


  • The establishment of the first SANSA Research Chair;


  • The launch of this very new 24/7 Regional Space Weather Centre;


  • SANSA provision of Synthetic Aperture Radar data to the National Oceans and Coastal Information Management System (OCIMS) which aims to develop world-class decision-making tools to improve the integrity of of maritime data that is crucial to our international trade and seafaring interests;


  • SANSA mapping of South Africa’s informal settlements growth patterns supporting the Human Settlement Department and the National Integrated Water Information System (NIWIS) Drought Status Information for the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation;


  • SANSA working with the National Space Research and Development Agency (NSRDA) developed space weather products for forecasting the Total Electron Content (TEC) over the African region.


In keeping with its objective of supporting the development of a critical mass of skills and expertise needed to give effect to national space initiatives, SANSA supported forty-six (46) postgraduate students in key space science disciplines in the 2020/21 financial year. A total of 2937 learners also benefited from SANSA outreach and space awareness initiatives.


Through SANSA’s researchers, South Africa has a growing international footprint and impact on new research within the space sector.


In March 2021, three SANSA researchers published an article in Polar Science on a unique observation of a medium-scale travelling ionospheric disturbance using SANSA’s SuperDARN radar, making the first ever estimate of the power dissipated by this phenomenon.


True to its vision to provide routine and reliable Earth Observation data to tackle some of Africa’s greatest socio-economic and sustainability challenges, SANSA’s Earth Observation Programme remains at the heart of delivering critical data products and services to important sectors of Government and industry, such as the deployment of earth observation tools in the recent fires in the Western Cape. Another example is the use of these tools for monitoring the impact of climate change on crops.


SANSA has been selected as the host of the Digital Earth Africa Program Management Office, which aligns with our Africa- centred Vision. The initiative includes a digital data cube platform to provide essential space products and services to the African continent.


Through our support as a department, SANSA ensured its increased focus on transforming the space sector through skills development and public outreach.


SANSA also has a role in international space cooperation, for example, we are currently negotiating with NASA for the establishment of a tracking and telemetry station in Matjiesfontein in support of future lunar exploration on the Moon.


The space agency continued to implement activities targeting women in science and the previously disadvantaged youth, while also using space science to inspire future generations of space scientists and entrepreneurs across the country through its public engagement programme.


Thousands of learners have, through the years, engaged with SANSA experts at science and career festivals, school visits, science centres, and now even online.  


Our science centre here in Hermanus also hosts educator workshops to support educators in the teaching of physics at schools.


Space science is a global industry and SANSA has extensive partnerships with space agencies and organisations across the world through which it has provided numerous opportunities for the local space industry and academia.


The Agency partners with African countries to provide training in the application of space technologies and to create a network of scientific nodes for aligned research on the continent.


The African Resource Management Constellation is one such initiative, which looks at African partners contributing a constellation of Earth observation satellites to allow Africa to manage more efficiently its natural resources and ensure food security while reducing costs and reliance on international satellite providers. This demonstrates the rationale for cross-border cooperation across the African continent and pooling together science, technology and innovation resources to confront common existential problems.


It is therefore important that SANSA continue to increase its impact in local as well as African space sector by strengthening its collaboration with its end-user base to maximise the use of space products and services across all our tiers of government, in South Africa and within the continent.


I must indicate that I remain heartened to witness the contribution by SANSA to our people and the global space industry through knowledge generation and excellence in service support to our space partners around the world, as well as its contribution to local industry and our economy despite the budget constraints it has endured for some years.


Examples of this important economic role of SANSA include its work in the agricultural economy through the use of open and Big data for vegetation condition and stress monitoring, crop and other vegetation assessment, estimation of cropped arable land and production area statistics, above-ground biomass and yield estimation and agricultural drought assessment and monitoring.


SANSA contributes significantly to the national economy and job creation through various projects such as satellite development and testing for various space missions, big data platforms like data visualisation centres, the activation of a satellite-based augmentation system over southern Africa, and the development of the required human talent.


Despite the ravages of the global pandemic, SANSA continued to work diligently in delivering its set of projects regardless of the limitations brought by the COVID- 19 pandemic. This includes managing is corporate governance well by being granted a clean audit.


This is the reason that today we must congratulate the Board, the Management and all SANSA employees for a job well done.


You remain as one of our entities that continue to make us proud as the higher education, science and innovation sector.


In conclusion, I am looking forward to even greater accomplishments from this young agency of our department with its growth trajectory fueled by ambitious aspirations.


Today is not a day of long speeches but a day to celebrate SANSA’s achievement by opening this state-of-the-art facility.


Let me therefore take this opportunity to thank the Board Chairperson, the Executive management and the entire staff of SANSA for their sterling work.


Thank you very much.


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