Radar to monitor space weather unveiled


The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has unveiled a new high-frequency digital radar that will be used to monitor space weather conditions.

The radar, which was revealed in Hermanus yesterday, forms part of the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN), an international network of more than 30 radars used to monitor the dynamics of space weather.

SANSA Space Science communication officer, Catherine Webster, explains that, just as there is weather on earth, there is weather in space, and it can interfere with and cause damage to satellites which are relied on for communication, navigation, resource management, and national safety and security.
“Understanding space weather, a term used to describe the effects the sun has on earth and the planets of our solar system, is a global priority,” says Webster. As host to the only Space Weather Centre in Africa, SANSA provides an important service to the nation by monitoring the sun and its activity to provide information, early warnings and forecasts on space weather conditions.

SANSA Space Science MD, Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell, explains that communication and navigation technology, town planning, resource and disaster management are highly dependent on satellites operating in the space environment. “Understanding this environment has become vital in order to protect technology in space and on earth from the devastating effects of space weather.”

SANSA decided to undertake the “ambitious” project of constructing the radar in-house to take advantage of the training opportunities offered by a project of this magnitude as well as the opportunity to develop a radio frequency laboratory, says McKinnell. “Through the development of the SuperDARN Radar, SANSA is able to provide a state-of-the-art radar platform for space science research to take place nationally and internationally, further enhancing South Africa as a global space player.”

The radar system is expected to be shipped to Antarctica later this year where it will be installed at the South African Antarctic Research Base, SANAE IV. Antarctica is a prime location for space weather research due to the earth’s magnetic field lines converging at the poles acting as a funnel for space plasma to travel into the earth’s atmosphere.

The unveiling of the radar formed part of SANSA’s World Space Week celebrations.