The event was chaired by Minister Blade Nzimande of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and Dr Valanathan Munsami, Chief Executive Officer of SANSA, alongside Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General, Technology Innovation at DSI, and other staff of the Agency.
During the virtual briefing, the Minister gave an update on the position of South Africa towards driving Science, Technology and Innovation, and the renewed focus of the government on space science and technology as demonstrated in the government’s overwhelming support for the Space Infrastructure Hub.
The Minister applauded SANSA’s ambitions and congratulated the space agency on the milestone of securing the R4.47 billion short-term investment and other additional ring-fenced funding for the Space Infrastructure Hub.
According to the Minister, about 270 project proposals were evaluated for the Sustainable Infrastructure Development investment, a USD 140 billion capital investment plan by the government. Eighty-six projects were selected of which the Space Infrastructure Hub emerged among the top five projects considered by the government as high priority projects.
“SANSA’s proposal for the Space Infrastructure Hub fell under the Digital Infrastructure sector and was selected as one of the Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPS), which forms part of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordination Committee (PICC), was gazetted on 24 July 2020. The Space Infrastructure Hub is declared as SIP 22, which implies that space infrastructure is now seen as a national priority, and is viewed in a similar footing, for example, like the Square Kilometre Array Project (SIP 16), another major infrastructure priority for the country,” a recent press release by SANSA reads in part.
The Minister, in conclusion, charged “SANSA board to go ahead and be bold.”
During his presentation, the CEO of SANSA explained that the Agency would adopt a space value chain development approach with user requirements focused on three core categories: environment, health & safety and the economic advancement of South Africa. The user requirements cut across all sectors with inputs from many government agencies, building upon the cross-sectorial consultations on user requirements across government agencies before the establishment of SANSA.
While speaking on the allocations for the project, the breakdown was given thus; 75% for satellite segment, 8% for the ground station, 8% for ICT and data visualisation centres, 8% for products and services and 1% for human capital development. The core projects highlighted in the development plan include data visualisation centre, concurrent design facility, ground segment infrastructure, development of satellites, AIT facilities, space weather centre and data cube.
Dr Munsami, however, mentioned that work is in progress, as they are still carrying out different levels of feasibility studies and consultations across sectors to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Hub.
Dr Munsami also announced that ZASpace Inc, a recently-established space industry forum in South Africa, will serve as the ‘ears’ of SANSA and will coordinate consultations between the industry and the space agency. He adds that “we want to see an expansion of the current industry base”.
Speaking on the potentials of SANSA and the hub, he stresses that South Africa is currently the only African country with full satellite engineering capability, the country with the most extensive satellite imagery catalogue, and the country with the only space weather centre. He promises that the Hub will consolidate on the current achievements and develop the industry even better.
When asked about multilateral collaborations with African countries, Dr Munsamin reiterated South Africa’s commitment to the African Resource Management Constellation (ARM), a multilateral partnership between Algeria, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa aimed at increasing the revisit time of satellite coverage over Africa and cooperative exchange of spatial intelligence data for resource management on the continent.
Other areas of pan-African interest that will be covered in the Hub include the recently-launched SpaceTech Challenge which is part of the Hub’s research development and innovation fund for space products and services. SANSA is also pushing for a sub-regional space programme for the member states of the Southern Africa Development Community. The SADC space programme will benefit from projects sponsored under the Space Infrastructure Hub funding.
SANSA would be exploring a joint satellite development programme with African partners with a focus on capacity building in satellite design and engineering.
When asked if the government is cutting down the budget for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project for the Space Infrastructure Hub, Dr Munsami clarified that the SKA has a different funding mechanism which is primarily parliamentary funding. At the same time, investors primarily fund the Space Infrastructure Hub. “It is not a case of rob Peter to pay Paul, both projects are different, and there is no overlap between the primary sources of funding,” he added.
Minister Nzimande emphasised that the Hub would leverage lots of partnerships; not just in terms of funding but also development. He added that the business model would attract participation from academia, vocational centres, private companies and state-owned institutions.
While speaking at the briefing, Mr Muofhe highlighted the importance of the Hub in developing human capacity not only in Africa but also on the continent. He said “we are in the process of executing the SA Space strategy. One of the focus is indigenisation.”
SANSA will be hosting an industry consultation next week Tuesday to discuss the Space Infrastructure Hub with entrepreneurs and innovators from the space sector and other related businesses.