Pandor opens space centre


Minister of Science & Technology Naledi Pandor says the opening of Space Weather Centre at the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO) in the southern Western Cape is an additional landmark in South Africa’s attempt “to strengthen the space sector, with a view to leveraging the benefits of space science and technology for socio-economic growth and sustainable development.”

She said Friday space science and technology was one area of scientific endeavour on which the Department of Science and Technology (DST) chose to focus in 2008. “The field of space science and technology is one in which a number of government departments have an interest. We know the strengths of the local space industry. We know that we need to improve our capacity. We want to improve South Africa’s global position in the space sector,” she said. “We drafted a policy and then a strategy, with input from a number of government departments, in order to guide our efforts in this direction.”

Pandor said the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) Act was passed in December 2008 “and since then the DST has moved full speed towards the establishment of the National Space Agency. Our medium-term goal is for our country to have a fully operational space programme within the next five years, and to be globally positioned within 10 years.
“There is another important and connected strategy – the South African Earth Observation Strategy (SAEOS). SAEOS coordinates the collection, processing and dissemination of Earth observation data so that they can be fully used to support policy, decision-making, economic growth and sustainable development in South Africa. Both the National Space Strategy and SAEOS complement each other and will help many government departments fulfill their mandates.”

The minister told her audience the launch of the Space Weather Centre spoke directly to South Africa’s space science and technology “grand challenge”.
“This Centre will contribute essential information for global space science and technology, as well as forecasts and predictions to protect our growing and future satellite industry. More specifically, it will provide a service to the Earth observation, communications, navigation, defence and engineering sectors,” she added. “In addition to this, the Space Weather Centre will contribute towards other grand challenges, such as the Energy Security grand challenge, through its potential to develop a skills base and stimulate interest and desire among young people to take part in science and technology.
“This project will position our country as a leader in Space Weather for the African continent, allowing for the development of projects that will create parallel initiatives between different African countries, and provide us with a leading focus area for joint collaborations. There is already a possible Space Weather satellite collaboration between India, Brazil and South Africa, which will proceed in the context of the IBSA Space Weather satellite,” she said.

Work on the centre began in May and finished last month. It is now one thirteen Regional Warning Centres (RWCs) around the world and part of International Space Environment Service (ISES) that has the mission 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.

The HMO is currently a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF) that is part of the DST. It will in the next year migrate to SANSA, oficially launched Thursday after a delay of some two months. The National Space Strategy was approved by Cabinet in 2008 and would have been announced at the Africa Aerospace and Defence show that year, but this was postponed. It was also launched Thursday.

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. 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).