Parliamentary Question: DST: International Astronautical Congress


Speech by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor MP, at the opening of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), ICC, Cape Town, 3 October 2011

Programme Director;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me start by thanking the International Astronautical Federation for choosing South Africa to host the International Astronautical Congress.

South Africa has much to offer Africa and the world in space science and technology.

Yet it was only last year that the South African government finally placed all the necessary institutes, strategies and policies together – the Department of Science and Technology launched both the South African Space Agency and released a Space Strategy, the Department of Trade and Industry appointed the members of the Space Council and focussed on the development of space technology in its Industrial Action Plan, and the Department of Communications committed to expanding our broadband communications through upgrading infrastructure requirements, all of which are tied into satellite communications in one way or another.

So it is with a certain amount of national pride that I stand here today, in front of this international audience, and say that South Africa has a space programme that is not only about the pursuit of frontier research and knowledge as a goal in itself, but is also about developing all aspects of the space industry here at the tip of Africa for the benefit of the whole of Africa.

South Africa’s approach to space science and technology is shaped by our National Space Strategy.

It set South Africa three core objectives.

The first is to capture a South African share of the global market for small to medium-sized space systems. Our intention is to expand our investment in “micro” satellites, building on the existing SumbandilaSAT platform.

The SumbandilaSAT satellite was designed and built in South Africa for the DST by SunSpace, a company that was spun out from Stellenbosch University.

SunSpace has secured orders from international clients for satellites and subsystems, and has also demonstrated that it can train engineers in other emerging space nations.

Our universities are also providing training in space science and technology to students from elsewhere in Africa.

In the field of satellite development, South Africa possesses some space facilities that are unique in Africa. These include a satellite assembly, test and integration facility, situated not far from here in Grabouw, and a launch facility situated at Arniston.

The satellite integration facility is planned to be incorporated into the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), our newly established space agency.

South Africa is ready to collaborate with other African space-faring nations and to offer its experiences and facilities to those African countries that wish to develop their indigenous space capabilities.

The second objective is to improve decision making through the integration of space-based systems with ground-based systems for providing data.

Our Space Strategy complements our national Earth Observation Strategy (2007), which coordinates all the earth observation activities of the government, science councils and academic institutions.

The National Space Strategy and Earth Observation Strategy serve a number of different government departments and help them to fulfill their respective mandates through the provision of timely and relevant data.

As you know, satellites don’t stop at national boundaries, and they can be used by multiple states in cooperation to address issues of trans-frontier or regional interest.

This is the inspiration for the African Resource Management (ARM) Constellation of satellites.

The basic idea behind the ARM concept is that a number of African countries each contribute one satellite to the constellation, but can access data from all the other satellites as well. The ARM initiative is being led by Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, but it is open to other interested African countries to join on the basis of their needs and capabilities.

The third objective is to develop applications for the provision of geospatial, telecommunications, timing and positioning products and services.

Here we are working to develop our capabilities in earth observation, communication and position, timing, and navigation. These are particularly important, not only because we are to host COP 17 in Durban in November. But clearly space science plays a huge role in the process of understanding climate change, its causes and consequences. We are particularly interested in South Africa in tele-medicine and tele-education and we have only just begun to tap the possibilities.

All in all, the South African National Space Agency is ready to undertake long-term planning and implementation of space-related activities in South Africa.

I want to close with a few words about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). South Africa is leading the African bid to host SKA. The SKA is one of the great scientific projects of the 21st century, developed by scientists in 17 countries.

SKA is not only a ‘big science’ project. It is also a ‘big engineering’ project.

We have collaborated with the SKA consortium to develop expertise, to attract young people into science and engineering careers and to develop expertise in industry.

Our young scientists and engineers have been able to jump to a leading role in many of the areas of development of the SKA, because of the excellent skills imparted by our universities and the expertise and experience that they have picked up from our partners.

Our industries, too, have been very innovative. They have designed and built innovative equipment for the telescopes.

The SKA is an iconic project for world science. It brings together groundbreaking science with cutting-edge technological innovations.

The technologies that are being developed for the SKA and its precursors – such as signal processing, very fast computers and data transport, image processing and wireless – are key technologies in IT for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you fruitful deliberations. Also, I hope you will enjoy your brief stay in our beautiful country, South Africa. You should try to visit our marvellous Table Mountain and enjoy a bird’s eye view of Cape Town.

I thank you.