Space Agency to launch by March?

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Touted for November, it now seems the South African Space Agency will only be operational by March.The South African Space Agency (SASA) will be in business by March, says the Department of Science and Technology (DST). This is several months later than the November target-date set in March this year.

SASA will be tasked with coordinating and implementing the country`s space and technology programmes. This includes the country`s fledgling satellite endeavour and its drive to host the $1.6 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio-telescope.

The cause of the delay is unclear, but DST communication director Kristin Klose says the department is presenting the SASA business case to the National Treasury.

It is not certain when the Space Agency Bill will be approved by Cabinet or tabled in Parliament.

Crucial step

Meanwhile, the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill, tabled in the National Assembly in May, is winding its way through Parliament. The Bill is seen as crucial to the country winning the IT-intensive SKA bid.

A site for the SKA, and its precursor, the Meerkat, has been identified to the northwest of Carnarvon, in the Northern Cape. The Bill, when it becomes law, will allow science and technology minister Mosibudi Mangena to declare the site a protected area.

The Bill says this will ensure “geographic areas in the Republic, which are suitable for astronomy and related scientific endeavours due to, among other things, atmospheric transparency, low levels of light pollution, low population density or minimal radio frequency interference, are protected, preserved and properly maintained.”

This will include steps to restrict light pollution and radio frequency emissions.

Satellite delay

The DST has also not responded to queries regarding the fate of Sumbandilasat. The satellite was due for launch last December from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea, near the North Pole. However, this was delayed to Easter and then to mid-June.

At the time, it was said Russia asked government to postpone the planned shipment of the satellite to the country “pending the finalisation of official documentation in Russia”.

The 80kg micro-satellite was built by Sun Space and Information Systems (SunSpace) at a cost of R11 million. Most of this was provided by the state. “Sumbandilasat” is a composite word, combining the Venda for "lead the way" with “sat” for satellite. It is SA`s second indigenous satellite, the first having been SunSat, also built by SunSpace.

SunSat was launched in February 1999 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, on a Delta II rocket. It had a 23-month operating life and ceased functioning in 2001. It remains in orbit.



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