South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has entered into a partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to host a Deep Space Ground Station. This was made known at the virtual cabinet meeting held on Wednesday 27 May 2020.
The station, which will be based in Matjiesfontein in the Western Cape, will support human spaceflight missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. It will be integrated into an existing network of three sites in the United States of America, Spain and Australia. As the fourth site, it will complement the other three sites and provide improved coverage and redundancy for critical mission support. SANSA will operate, maintain and manage the station.
Earlier in the year, SANSA and NASA signed an agreement to collaborate in conducting technical and environmental research on the potential to establish a ground station in South Africa that will support future near-Earth and deep space exploration, including NASA’s planned Artemis mission to send the first woman and the next man to the surface of the Moon, as directed by the President of the United States. This new collaboration on the hosting of a deep-space ground station is one of the outcomes of the research.
The station will benefit South Africa in, amongst others, the development of scarce skills and the growth of the science, engineering, technology and innovation sector. It will also provide opportunities to feed the knowledge economy and increase the national research output in space science and technology.
In the past, NASA has set up a Deep Space Station in South Africa. Deep Space Station 51 (DSS-51), a 26 meter (85 foot) antenna, was installed near Hartebeesthoek, South Africa, outside Johannesburg. Completed in 1961, DSS-51 first supported Ranger 1’s mission to test systems for future missions. South Africa was an ideal location for the third Deep Space Network (DSN) station as it is roughly 120 degrees of longitude from Goldstone, California and Canberra, Australia. Operations ceased in 1974 due to changing flight requirements and the political environment.