Govt pushes space science and tech


The DST collates public comment on its draft National Space Science and Technology Strategy.The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has introduced a National Space Science and Technology Strategy, while seeking a new launch partner for SA`s second satellite after a fall-out with Russia.

The 20-page strategy argues that SA has a rich space heritage and has been involved in the sector since the dawn of the space age 50 years ago and also has space facilities and “operational centres of excellence”.

Strategy coordinator Dr Val Munsami says the department has a database of about 60 companies that offer space services – many of them in the ICT industry.

The strategy will seek to stimulate a robust indigenous capability in order to place SA among the leading nations in the innovative utilisation of space science and technology that enhances economic growth and sustainable development.

Munsami adds that the 20-page draft has been well received. It was developed by an intergovernmental committee with industry input and subsequently published for public comment. Representations were due by Friday last week.

The strategy is derived from the recently approved DST 10-Year Innovation Plan, which includes space science and technology as one of the five “grand challenges”. Each of these is to be supported by a strategy, which should be ready for roll-out in the financial year starting 1 April.

The Innovation Plan`s introduction says the plan proceeds “from government`s broad socioeconomic mandate – particularly the need to accelerate and sustain economic growth – and is built on the foundation of the national system of innovation (NSI)”.

“It recognises that while the country`s science and technology system has taken important strides forward, there is a tremendous gap between SA and those countries identified as knowledge-driven economies,” the document adds.

“To close this gap, the NSI must become more focused on long-range objectives, including urgently confronting SA`s failure to commercialise the results of scientific research, and our inadequate production (in both a qualitative and quantitative sense) of knowledge workers capable of building a globally competitive economy.”

Satellite trouble

Meanwhile, the DST says it is seeking a new launch partner for the Sumbandilasat low-orbiting satellite that should have been launched into space in December 2006.

The departure was moved several times and eventually “postponed indefinitely because of administrative problems on the side of its current launch partner, Roskosmos (the Russian Federal Space Agency),” the DST says in a statement.

The satellite is part of a multimillion-rand, national space programme developed by the DST. Once in low earth orbit, it will serve as a research tool to support, among other things, the monitoring and management of disasters such as the extent of floods, oil spills and fires.

A media report earlier this month suggested the Russian defence ministry had scrapped the launch from a Soviet-era nuclear submarine after SA`s military declined to buy or use one of its satellites. The report in the Engineering News speculated that SA had a secret military space programme separate from that of the DST.

Defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota`s spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi, would not comment on the report or the alleged secret programme. DST spokesperson Kristin Klose was also in the dark on the matter. But industry and military insiders scoffed at the idea and not even a trace of such a programme could be found in the defence department`s annual report.

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