No word on SunSpace


The decision to acquire a majority stake in Sun Space and Information Systems (SunSpace) should be finalised and presented to Cabinet before month end, Minister of Science& Technology Naledi Pandor says.

Answering a parliamentary question from the opposition Democratic Alliance party, Pandor said the South African National Space Agency “has just finalised the draft business case and the possible structuring of the deal. A special SANSA board meeting will be discussing the report from a consulting firm in order to advise the minister accordingly.
“The evaluation of the share of the department’ contribution has not been finalised, as it would depend on the overall structuring of the deal and shareholding arrangement. The process is still underway…”

Cabinet last year February “approved in principle” that the government would acquire an equity share of between 55 and 60% in SunSpace, the Stellenbosch University (Sun) satellite business that built the SumbandilaSat microsatellite “in order to retain South Africa’s national space capabilities” and move SA closer to a goal of launching satellites itself within five to ten years. Nomfuneko Majaja, the government`s Chief Director Advanced Manufacturing Space Affairs at the Department of Trade and Industry told Parliament last July that “it was hoped that SA would be in a position to be a launching state in five to ten years time.”

The company has undertaken a number of space programmes including the design, development and manufacturing of the SumbandilaSat that was launched into space recently.” The R26 million, 81kg SumbandilaSat, SA’s second satellite was launched in September last year. It was a follow-on to the SunSat microsatellite launched from the US in 1999.

SunSpace was previously owned by a university investment trust, founder members and employees. SunSpace CE Bart Cilliers told Engineering News most “clients are governments and they want to know that the manufacturer has the support of its home government. This deal shows solid government support and assures the stability and longevity of the company.”

In July 2009 the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) invested R50 million SunSpace to allow it to “increase its capacity and improve its competitiveness in the aerospace market.” The Engineering News reported at the time the NEF would invest the funds directly into black economic-empowerment (BEE) consortium Mihle, which owns 25% of the company`s equity. “The deal is in line with the NEF`s mandate of fostering and supporting broad-based black economic-empowerment (BBBEE) and is one of a series of recent investments aimed at rapidly increasing black participation in strategic industries and enterprises,” the Engineering News added.

The moves follow the DTI publishing a National Space Policy in March 2009 as a further step towards regaining the ability to launch satellites from SA into space. The policy will be administered by the DTI, while the accompanying National Space Strategy is managed by the Department of Science and Technology.

SA has previously contemplated a satellite programme and the infrastructure created for that is largely still available. This includes the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications, at Grabouw, near Cape Town. 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.