SA to establish space agency this year

President Kgalema Motlanthe has signed the South African National Space Agency Bill into law, which should see South Africa setting up its own space agency later this year to pull together all space-related activities in the country under one banner.
Published in the Government Gazette on 15 December 2008, the National Space Agency Act provides for the establishment of a national space agency to implement a space programme for South Africa.
The Department of Science & Technology (DST) says the enactment of the law “is as a step in the right direction given the country`s rich heritage of involvement in modern astronomy, which dates back to 1685, when the first temporary observatory was established in the Cape”.
The agency will promote the peaceful use of outer space; foster research in astronomy, earth observation, communications, navigation and space physics; foster international cooperation in space-related activities; and advance scientific, engineering and technological competencies through human capital development and outreach programmes.
The agency must facilitate the development of space missions, develop technology platforms, and acquire, assimilate and disseminate space satellite data for any organ of state.
It will also implement the National Space Strategy that was approved by cabinet in December 2008, to stimulate the capability to place SA among the leading nations in the innovative utilisation of space science and technology.
The DST says the strategy is derived from the Department of Science and Technology`s Ten-Year Innovation Plan, which includes space science and technology as one of the five “grand challenges”.
The agency is also expected to bring together the work of several institutions and harness their capacities to leverage billions of rands to boost the economy and create more jobs. Some of the projects it will coordinate include the Square Kilometre Array bid, the Southern African Large Telescope, and the launch of SA’s second indigenous satellite, Sumbandilasat.
The first step towards its establishment will be the appointment of board of 10 to 15 members, a chief executive officer who is an ex officio member, and a chairperson appointed by the Minister of Science and Technology.
The Board will advise the Minister on any matter relating to space affairs that may influence the functions of the Agency; monitor the research priorities and programmes of the Agency; and, after consultation with the Minister, establish or disestablish any of the body`s organisational divisions.