SA plans to launch space satellites in five to 10 years


South Africa plans to launch satellites into space within the next five to ten years.

Nomfuneko Majaja, the government`s Chief Director Advanced Manufacturing Space Affairs at the Department of Trade and Industry told Parliament earlier this month that “it was hoped that SA would be in a position to be a launching state in five to ten years time.”

For this reason, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group reports, the DTI were shepherding the UN Convention on International Liability for Damage caused by Space Objects of 1972 and UN Convention on Registration of Objects launched into Outer Space of 1975 through the National Assembly.

Majaja told MPs the Liability Convention dealt with the responsibility of a State in the event of damages caused by its “space objects”.

This convention also distinguished between different situations, where absolute, fault based of joint and several liability would be deemed to apply. The manner in which claims were made was also addressed.

The Registration Convention stipulated that a national registry of all space objects launched must be created, and specified the information to be supplied to the United Nations` register. Each space object launched must have a registration number.

According to the PMG, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Thandi Tobias said there was “heavy competition to gain access to space and having a satellite would prove beneficial to the country”. She said that the priority of government was social spending, and having a communications satellite formed part of that.

Advocate Luthando Mkhumathela, chair of the Space Council, added that some of the benefits gained from communication satellites included navigation for aircraft in flight, gaining knowledge of weather patterns and navigation for fishing boats.

They did not say why this would require SA-owned satellites and why existing commercial and military constellations were insufficient.


defenceWeb in December reported SA investors, including former communications director general Andile Ngcaba, the Oppenheimer family, Nedbank and the Industrial Development Corporation have formed a joint venture (JV) with satellite service provider Intelsat to put a US$250 million device in the sky over Africa in the next two years.

Science and Technology minister Naledi Pandor meanwhile yesterday confirmed that Sumbandilasat (ZA-002), the R11 million, 80kg micro earth observation satellite owned by her department will be launched next month.

The launch – initially using a R-29RM (SS-N-23) Shtil (“Calm Weather”) submarine launched ballistic missile from a nuclear-powered Russian submarine in the Barents Sea, near the North Pole – has been postponed multiple times since 2006.  

The satellite was built for the DST by SunSpace and Information Systems, a company associated with the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town. SunSpace export manager Ron Olivier previously told defenceWeb Sumbandilasat was built under a R26 million contract that includes launch and shipping costs, as well as funding used by Stellenbosch University to present post-graduate and PhD courses on satellite development.


The Engineering News and the Mail & Guardian (M&G) last year reported the delays in launching Sumbandilasat relate to Russian unhappiness with former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota cancelling a R1 billion Defence Intelligence order for a reconnaissance satellite.    

The M&G reported the contract was place by then-Chief of Defence Intelligence, Lt Gen Moreti “Mojo” Motau.It added it was “unclear why Lekota cancelled the contract. NPO Mashinostroyenia, the Russian state company from which Motau ordered the spy satellite, referred all queries to Lekota’s ministry.” The MoD declined to comment.

The M&G further noted that in “retrospect the signs that the SANDF wanted its own space capability had been there for some time.

“The intelligence chapter of the defence department’s 2003/04 annual report — Motau’s domain — warned that ‘worldwide developments in information technology, sufficient bandwidth, the availability of collection databases and space technologies” might require expenditure “beyond defence intelligence’s current budget allocation`.
“The 2004/05 annual report was more specific: ‘The collection capability of defence intelligence is being expanded continuously and needs further improvement at huge cost to stay abreast of new technological developments … [The] inflexibility of commercial satellites and bad weather limit the use of satellite reconnaissance over equatorial regions.`

Pandor`s predecessor, Mosibudi Mangena, has previously argued SA needs its own proprietary satellites and cannot rely on commercial machines for imagery as they may not always be available and may not offer coverage of the area of interest.

In addition, he warned that relying on satellites owned by others had national security implications – the operator and likely their national intelligence establishment would have insight into strategic South African government decision-making.     


SA has previously contemplated a satellite programme and the infrastructure created for that is largely still available.

Sumbandilasat successfully completed a series of performance tests at the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications, at Grabouw, near Cape Town in 2006.

The facility, now in the hands of the Department of Communications, was in the 1980s known as Houwteq, part of apartheid SA’s space programme, which was central to a broader scheme to build ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear weapons.

Launch-pads and a launch control facility were built in the Overberg. These are now part of state arsenal Denel`s Overberg Test Range.