The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has begun constructing its state-of-art facility, a 24-hour regional space weather centre in Hermanus, Cape Town. The Agency celebrated the ground-breaking ceremony on Tuesday.
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, applauded the SANSA for its innovative approach to the global challenge of Space Weather during his speech at the ceremony.
To comprehend the importance of monitoring space weather for the country, it is necessary to note that much like terrestrial weather, space weather results from a complex system driven both by the Sun and events much closer to Earth, and the impacts have a significant social and economic impact to us all.
The Sun’s constant outflow of solar wind fills space with particles and plasma. This solar wind, along with other solar events like giant explosions called coronal mass ejections, influences the very nature of space and can interact with Earth’s magnetic systems.
Space Weather can interfere with satellite electronics, communications, GPS signals, and even – when extreme – energy grids on Earth.
With the growing need to monitor space weather and its impact on communities and our technology, SANSA joined the International Space Environment Service (ISES) membership and contributed to this service as the Regional Warning Centre for Space Weather in Africa. SANSA currently has a limited focus (High-Frequency Communication impacts) research and development centre, which was initially opened in 2010, and later upgraded in 2018 at its facility in Hermanus.
In 2019 SANSA embarked on a three-year project to move this centre from its limited research and development focus to a full focus 24-hour operational space weather centre which includes a new state of the art building on the SANSA Hermanus Campus.
The funding resources required to establish the 24-hour operational space weather centre amount to R70.89 million over three financial years, covering establishment costs, operational costs, capital expenditure and human resources.
SANSA has appointed a contractor for this construction project that is set to commence in April. It is expected that the Space Weather Centre will be fully operational as a 24/7 full-service centre from 1 October 2022.
The DSI has, to date, invested R40 million towards the project and will transfer a further R30 million in the next financial year. Over the three-year establishment period, approximately R15 million has been committed to developing Human Capital with the creation of jobs and necessary scarce skills to provide service and product excellence. It is expected that the Space Weather Centre will be fully operational as a 24/7 full-service centre from 1 October 2022.
“The regional space weather information provider will further grow the science, engineering, technology and innovation sector, offering opportunities to develop scarce skills and increase national research output, while ensuring that usable products and services are generated for the safety of the nation and Africa at large”, said Dr Nzimande.
Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell, Managing Director Space Science oat SANSA explained the Space Weather Centre’s importance as a benchmark for excellence on the African continent.
“The new Space Weather Centre will be a state of the art building that we can all be proud of, and the SANSA Hermanus campus will become something akin to a ‘space park’ – the importance will not only be in what the building symbolises, but it will also be in the value proposition for the nation and the continent that we have created by developing a national capability in critical skills, a service that accrues domain-specific and public good benefits, positioning South Africa amongst global experts offering solutions to this global challenge of space weather, and a motivational driver for young South Africans that are our future space scientists”.
Dr Val Munsami, SANSA’s CEO, agreed and emphasised that South Africa needs to take up a leadership role in Africa in the space sector. “This is the first of many steps towards our aspirational plans to expand the South African space programme for the benefit of humanity.”