The South African Space Agency (SANSA) has received a three-year commitment from the South African government to build a new state-of-the-art space weather centre, according to a recent disclosure by SANSA CEO, Dr Valanathan Munsami.
“We just got a commitment from the government to build the new space weather centre in South Africa”, Dr Munsami said while outlining ongoing space projects in South Africa during the Heads of Emerging Space Agencies Plenary at the recently-concluded International Astronautical Congress in Washington D.C.
This disclosure follows the announcement in January of the selection of SANSA Space Weather Centre by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to become one of two ICAO-designated regional space weather centres.
In a follow-up conversation with Space in Africa, Lee-Anne McKinnell, SANSA Managing Director for Space Science, reiterated government’s commitment to beef up South Africa’s space weather expertise.
“Our government has given us a three-year commitment, full cost in the region of ZAR 90 million (about USD 6 million), to set up the new space weather centre,” McKinnell told Space in Africa.
South Africa has developed competence in space weather science over the past years. It owns one of the 16 Regional Warning Centres in the world under the auspices of the International Space Environment Service (ISES), which coordinates global space weather activities.
Owing to its speciality in magnetic observations, South Africa’s space weather capability has been stronger in science than in applications. With the proposed new space weather facilities, SANSA is working to develop all-round expertise in space weather science and applications while providing cutting-edge services to commercial clients and development partners.
Space weather data received a boost last year as a frontline technology in the aviation sector following ICAO’s mandate that all aircraft must have space weather information as part of the flight plan. ICAO designated three global space weather centres: a standalone U.S centre, the Pan-European Consortium for Aviation Space Weather User Services(PECASUS), and an Australia, Canada, France and Japan consortium, and two regional centres: the South African centre and a joint Russia-China centre.
For the development of the South African centre, SANSA is collaborating with PECASUS to have better access to international models and expertise.
“We are working with PECASUS in terms of making sure that we are at the right standard to deliver these services. Space weather is a global phenomenon with a regional impact, so it is important that we are part of a global network,” said McKinnell.
The new centre, which will be located at Hermanus in the Western Cape, would have connections across Africa, she said, noting that SANSA intends to bring in African partners and also have instrumentation that will be hosted by African partners.
The project has a development timeline of three years before the centre becomes fully operational 24/7, with a longterm plan for sustainability and commercialization.
McKinnell said they expect to see a return on investment in commercial revenue about ten years from now. The first decade will focus on building the space weather services and products, creating awareness and signing up commercial clients and development partners.