SA reaching to space to boost economy

South Africa aims to become a regional centre for space technology, investing in satellite and telescope projects to support its ailing economy, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday.

“When a country engages in a programme as significant globally as space science there are many areas in which the economy is boosted,” said Pandor.

“First in terms of the products, such as building satellites… [or] you may want to establish a launching pad, that in itself is a major infrastructural investment,” she told Reuters.

Africa’s biggest economy is home to the southern hemisphere’s largest telescope, Salt, and last year it adopted laws allowing for a national space agency.

But it faces its first recession since 1992 and is struggling to find housing for millions of poor Africans still living in townships or squatter camps. Growing labour unrest has led to a wave of strikes.

Forging ahead on the former apartheid military machine’s endeavours, it intends to build its space agency by 2011 amid increasing interest from space pioneers Nasa and the Russian Federation, Pandor said.

Beyond a legal and infrastructure base, South Africa is also bidding against Australia to host the €1,5 billion Square Kilometre Array radio telescope—an array of 4 000 antennas spread over several African states scientists hope will unlock the origins of the universe.

“Part of economic growth is not just productive activity, it’s also intellectual capacity,” Pandor said of local projects attracting international interest.

She said South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Kenya have committed their national satellites to the continent-wide African Resources Management Constellation project. The initiative aims at giving advance warnings of natural and environmental disasters, such as floods.

Africa’s satellite potential
And it is the continent’s growing appetite for satellite images which is honing the attention of South Africa’s SunSpace satellite manufacturing company.

“The international market for very high resolution remote-sensing data is expanding ...
and Africa obviously has massive potential to sell our technology,” Ron Olivier, executive director business development at SunSpace, told Reuters.

He estimated the annual global market value for this type of data at R1,2-billion.

In 1999 SunSpace, partnering the University of Stellenbosch, helped launch South Africa’s first locally built satellite. A second satellite was sold on the international market, while a third, more sophisticated probe, is expected to be launched on September 15 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan.

“How many satellites will follow is totally at the discretion of the South African government, but continued development and significant improvements can only be achieved if a two further satellites are launched within the next five years and at least one satellite for years six to eight,” Olivier said.—Reuters

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