The South African space sector holds a number of opportunities for local companies, notably small satellite design, manufacture and launch and payload development.
This is according to the 2020 Aerospace and Defence Masterplan, which notes a trend towards space privatisation, with a shift from state-funded operations to private sector research and development and operations.
“The exponential increase in digitisation of activities (such as online retail, live streaming, need for big data as decision support and other) led to a clear and ever increasing demand for satellites and linked onboard technology to serve the ever increasing demand for access to services,” the Masterplan states.
“The demand therefore for the manufacture and launch of constellations of smaller satellites, combined with the ability to download real time data not available on land, and the ability to connect people across large and inhospitable distances, has increased, and with it, private sector investment in the industry. COVID-19 hastened an already developing trend to the point where the industry has grown far more than originally anticipated and in a much shorter time frame.”
For South Africa, this means key opportunities lie in small satellite design, manufacture, testing and launch, combined with satellite payloads for data acquisition, and then the download, manipulation and application of the data.
Linked to this early stage manufacturing opportunity is the potential for South Africa to implement its own sovereign telecommunications satellite. The business case for this suggests significant savings to the state (instead of paying to use telecommunications satellite owned by others); income generation opportunities (leasing of capacity); significantly improved state security and sovereignty; and the ability to cross subsidise access to the digital world and data for even the deepest, poorest rural area. This is a catalytic infrastructure project of national strategic importance for consideration by the National Infrastructure Fund (NIF) and the National Infrastructure Coordinating Council (NICC), the Masterplan states.
Recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the funding of a South African Space Infrastructure Hub which will unlock South African capacity to manufacture and provide downstream services (South Africa has a strong legacy in space engineering and development) and increase South African participation in this sub segment.
“Much depends on the speedy adoption of a regulatory framework updated for the current realities – the existing regulatory framework for Space was last reviewed pre 1994 and is unsuitable for today’s South African Space industry,” the Masterplan states.
“Space has already been allocated the essential budgets to implement a path of growth and development which will take South Africa firmly into the space economy. Some regulatory and administrative barriers to short term growth remain however – such as the transfer of the Houwtek facility to the DSI/SANSA.”
For more on this subject, consider attending the SAAMDEC/defenceWeb Aerospace and Defence Masterplan webinar on 25 May.