Denel mulls space business


Denel group CE Talib Sadik says the South African state arsenal is considering options to diversify its business to include space technology in support of the national growth plan.

“Denel is positioning itself as the national aerospace powerhouse of ability, opportunity and innovation,” Sadik said in a statement in support of the International Astronautical Congress being held in Cape Town until Friday.
“The Denel group of companies are major contributors to the country’s advanced manufacturing capacity. Even thoughDenel’s primary mandate is to meet the needs of the local defence sector, much of our locally-developed technology has been adapted for use in non-military applications. We are keen to take part in initiatives that support the development goals of the country and the continent, particularly the government’s space strategy,” said Sadik.

Three Denel companies are at the Congress, being held on African soil for the first time namely Denel Dynamics, Denel Saab Aerostructures and the Denel Overberg Test Range (Denel OTR).

Denel Dynamics is a leader in the southern hemisphere in the development and manufacturing of missiles and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle systems). “This aerospace heritage of more than 40 years is directly applicable to participation in the space industry. Denel Dynamics is exploring opportunities with other local players to find ways of using its capabilities, knowledge and skills to branch-out into the space business,” the statement adds.

Denel’s Overberg Test Range, which provided support for the qualification of airborne systems, is active in the space industry through the provision of telemetry support to international space craft from its facilities. Denel OTR has a contract with the French Space Agency, CNES, to provide telemetry tracking support for their space launches including the “Johannes Kepler mission” that carried supplies to the International Space Station.

Denel OTR is also involved in a pilot project to determine whether its existing test range instrumentation radars at Arniston in the southern Cape could be used to detect and track space debris.

Denel Saab Aerostructures (DSA) is a key player in the South African and global aerospace industry, with a customer portfolio “which includes Airbus, Boeing, SAAB and AgustaWestland.” Denel believes the Astronautical Congress is an important opportunity to position its Aerostructures business as an important player in this sector, offering world-class engineering design and development capabilities as well as significant advanced manufacturing capabilities, such as composites manufacturing and thin-web machining, the statement says.

Nomfuneko Majaja, the government`s Chief Director Advanced Manufacturing Space Affairs at the Department of Trade and Industry told Parliament in June 2009 South Africa planned to launch satellites into space within the next five to ten years. SA has previously contemplated a satellite programme and the infrastructure created for that is largely still available.

Denel OTR and the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications (ISSA, then Houwteq), at Grabouw, near Cape Town were in the 1980s central to a broader scheme to build ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear weapons. Launch-pads and a launch control facility were built at Denel OTR and an integration facility with clean rooms were built at Grabouw.

Al J Venter in association with Nicholas Paul Badenhorst and Pierre Lowe Victor wrote in “How SA built six atom bombs – and then abandoned its nuclear programme” (Ashanti Publishing, Kyalami Estate, 2008) wrote the missile was developed as Project Burglar in collaboration with Israel and – according to Venter. “What eventually emerged from the reported 1974 Israeli-SA Project Burglar initiative was a reasonably versatile family of similar solid-propelled missiles such as the two-stage Jericho-2/YA-3 IR/LRICBM [intermediate range/long range intercontinental ballistic missile]; the three/four stage Shavit/1 SLV [satellite launch vehicle]; and the subsequent four-stage Next/Shavit-2 SLV, as well as another reported ICBM variant,” Venter says. The SA versions became known as the RSA-1, RSA-2 and RSA-3.

Mark Wade, author of the Encyclopaedia Astronautica calculated a three-stage RSA-3 rocket, used as a ballistic missile, could have carried a 400kg payload to Moscow or a 340kg package to Washington DC. Wade also has a four-stage RSA-4 missile that would have weighed 88mt, be 23.5m long, have a base diameter of 2.4m and would have been roughly equivalent to the US LGM-118 Peacekeeper. It would have carried an 700kg warhead to “any target on earth.”

The idea was to deploy the missiles on mobile “transport-erector-launchers” (TELs) called Beestrokke (cattle trucks, “beestrok” is the singular) developed under Project Wrinkle. It appears up to 39 Beestrokke were considered at one stage, divided into five flights of six TELs. The other nine TELs were apparently to have been a “strategic reserve”. By November 1989 seven had been built and six deployed.

Available data indicates that a RSA-1 was fired from the Overberg Test Range on June 1, 1989. A RSA-2 missile was fired on July 5, 1989. this is known to have travelled just over 1450km or 900 miles to the south east, splashing down near the Prince Edward island group. A final two-stage system was fired on November 19, 1991. Only one of these missiles now remain, a solitary RSA-3 on its TEL-cradle at the Air Force Museum at the former AFB Swartkop. The missiles, it appears would have been Air Force assets.

Deputy Director General of Research, Development and Innovation at the Department of Science & Technology Val Munsami in January told defenceWeb that around 1988, the South African government also initiated a project to develop a low-earth orbit reconnaissance satellite system for the Air Force that resulted in “GreenSat”, a low earth orbit satellite touted for civilian applications.

According to the astronautix website, the RSA-4 launch vehicle would have been a four-stage rocket with three solid propellant boost stages and a hydrazine powered fourth stage, the latter for accurate orbit injection and positioning. It was advertised as being able to lift a satellite with a mass of 550 kg into a circular orbit at a height of 1400 km and a inclination of 55 degrees. Provision would have been made for a payload volume of 10.4 cubic metres with a maximum diameter of 2.2m.

The entire programme was cancelled in 1994. “This project was abandoned … and SA lost valuable technological development and skilled people in this area,” Munsami said.