SA wants more eyes in the sky

South Africa will launch its latest earth observation satellite in 2019, Sandile Malinga, chief executive of the South African National Space Agency (Sansa), told the Mail & Guardian last month.

At the moment, the country is reliant on international satellites for information about its 1.2-million km² area, excluding its oceans. Reliance on foreign satellites also means that South African satellite-data users, which include about 40 national and provincial government departments, have no control over what images they are sent, what the images focus on and when they will get them.

Jane Olwoch, the head of Sansa’s earth observation directorate, says the space agency buys the Spot-6 and Spot-7 data – used by entities such as the departments of human settlements, agriculture, forestry and fisheries and Statistics South Africa – for about R35-million a year.

Spot is a satellite and stands for Système Pour l’Observation de la Terre. Each year, the South African space agency distributes a Spot mosaic, a collection of 485 images.

With about R292-million earmarked for its design, manufacture and launch, EO-Sat1 will add not only to the country’s ability to monitor its water, agriculture, natural forests and human settlements, but also the continent’s.

Network constellation
It will form part of the African Resource Management Constellation, a group of African countries that plan to launch a network of earth observation satellites. In 2009, four African countries – South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Kenya – committed to contributing at least one satellite to the constellation, which will focus on earth observation and natural resource management. Nigeria already has two satellites, one of which is part of the constellation.

Unlike other African countries, South Africa has experience in building satellites. The R25-million low-earth-orbit satellite, Sumbandila, was launched in 2009, but was beleaguered with technical problems throughout the two years that it was in operation.

A solar storm in 2011 is blamed for damaging its circuitry, culminating in power and communications failure. “Sumbandila was a prototype,” says Malinga. “[It was there for us] to learn how it works.”

During its two-year lifespan, the satellite collected more than a thousand images, Sansa said at the time.

But the goal is not just to collect images of the country’s natural resources. Malinga says that “the key thing we want to achieve, aside from the applications [of the satellite’s data], is to stimulate our industry. We are working with Denel [South Africa’s state-owned aerospace and defence manufacturer] to ensure that they outsource work to our private industry. In terms of local content, we want a minimum threshold of 50%.”

The ultimate goal is to have a number of South African satellites, Malinga says.

Initially too ambitious
“Our desire [for EO-Sat1] is to meet as many of the user requirements as possible, but it is impossible to meet them all,” he says. A satellite is built – in terms of its design, size and payload – to address certain user requirements, and Sansa started engaging with stakeholders, soon after it was established in 2010, to determine what they want on a satellite. Their initial hopes for EO-Sat1 were “too ambitious; we had to narrow them”, says Malinga. “The only way we can achieve the broad suite of user requirements is [to have] a number of satellites, and that’s ultimately a government decision.”

But his rationale is, “If you have a steady national pipeline of satellites, that allows [manufacturers] to outsource [other] contracts … a national programme cannot sustain a commercial build of satellites [alone].”

Satellite production has been touted by both the departments of science and technology, and trade and industry, as a high-technology manufacturing niche that South Africa could exploit. However, the industry has not been particularly kind to our home-grown satellite companies.

The best known example is SunSpace, which was started by a group of Stellenbosch University graduates. Although the company was responsible for South Africa’s pathfinder satellite, Sumbandila, it did not have enough contracts to sustain its business.

After a number of years of uncertainty, during which promised contracts failed to materialise and the government prevaricated about buying equity in the company, it was finally absorbed into Denel Dynamics in 2013, with the department of science and technology paying R55-million for its intellectual property and tangible assets.

Advertisting

Study unpacks the ‘hidden racism’ at Stellenbosch

Students say they feel unseen and unheard at the university because of their skin colour

Workers’ R60m ‘lost’ in banks scam

An asset manager, VBS Mutual Bank and a Namibian bank have put the retirement funds of 26 000 municipal workers in South Africa at risk

‘Judge President Hlophe tried to influence allocation of judges to...

Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath accuses Hlophe of attempting to influence her to allocate the case to judges he perceived as ‘favourably disposed’ to former president Jacob Zuma

SAA grounds flights due to low demand

SAA is working to accommodate customers on its sister airlines after it cancelled flights due to low demand
Advertising

Press Releases

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.

KZN teacher educators jet off to Columbia University

A group of academics were selected as participants of the programme focused on PhD completion, mobility, supervision capacity development and the generation of high-impact research.

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.