New Space Weather Centre to open in Hermanus


Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, will officially open a new Space Weather Centre on Friday, at the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO) near Cape Town.

Work on the Space Weather Centre began in May and finished last month. It includes an Operations Centre that incorporates three server rooms and a space weather office.

The Magnetic Observatory functions as a space weather warning station for Africa and is one of thirteen Regional Warning Centres (RWCs) around the world. It is appointed as the Space Weather Regional Warning Centre for the whole of Africa, Pandor’s office says in a statement.

The RWC is part of International Space Environment Service (ISES), whose mission it is to encourage and facilitate international monitoring and prediction of the space environment so that the impact of space weather on human activities is reduced.

Space weather forecasting and observing involves the monitoring of weather conditions such as magnetic fields, solar winds, radiation, solar flares, meteorites etcetera. It is important because things like solar flares can affect communications on Earth and damage electronics aboard spacecraft, Pandor’s office avers. “Data from the new Space Weather Centre will be sent out through the Internet, Twitter and via radio so the entire nation can access space weather information.”

The HMO is a research facility belonging to the National Research Foundation (NRF) and is part of a worldwide network of observatories that study lightning, the Earth’s magnetic field, the ionosphere and magnetosphere. The NRF is an agency of the Department of Science and Technology. The magnetic observatory also offers certain services to the public, commercial and defence sectors, such as electromagnetic signature management and magnetic navigation support.

As it will be minister Pandor’s first visit to the HMO, she will be given a tour of the facility, which will include the science centre, student facilities, technolab and various instrumentation equipment. Other dignitaries and stakeholders will also be present at the opening.

Pandor’s opening of the Space Weather Centre comes a day after the launch of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). The aim is to pull together all space-related activities in South Africa in order to implement a domestic space programme that will put the country among global leaders in space science and technology. SANSA will become the umbrella body that will co-ordinate the Space Weather Centre, together with other space-related projects such as the Square Kilometre Array, Southern African Large Telescope and SumbandilaSat, Pandor’s office says.

SANSA will also integrate South Africa’s existing science and technology institutions, such as the Satellite Applications Centre of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). There are roughly 74 aerospace and defence companies in South Africa, according to the International Astronautical Federation. The Federation’s 62nd International Astronautical Congress will be held in Cape Town in October next year and will be the first time such a congress is held in Africa, largely due to its superior infrastructure, the Federation says.