The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) has received the sum of USD 7 million from the Department of Science and Technology to revamp its space facilities, according to Dr Valanathan Munsami, SANSA’s Chief Executive Officer, who disclosed the information at the Third African Space Stakeholders Dialogue held last month in Dakar, Senegal. The fund will finance the revamping of South Africa’s space infrastructure, including launch facilities, satellite development and testing centres as well as ground facilities.
It is not clear yet which of the old facilities will be revamped. However, Valanathan mentioned that the fund will finance the revamping of the country’s launch capabilities and advanced space laboratories.
Some of the old space infrastructure and launch facilities in South Africa predate the establishment of SANSA. Notably, the facilities located in Hermanus, Hartebeesthoek, Overberg and Howteq have been providing various services for both international and national space mission satellites, including tracking, telemetry and command (TT&C), test launch services, in-orbit testing, mission control, ground reception and space navigation.
The Overberg Test Range was built in the 1980s when the apartheid regime commenced a ballistic missile and rocket programme. The facilities at the site include missile launch pads, tracking radar, optical missile tracking systems and cinetheodolites. The site was prominently used for test launches of the RSA series of missiles and rockets in 1989 and 1989, including the joint Israeli-South African RSA-3 which was designed to launch a 300kg reconnaissance satellite into space.
The military programme and rocket projects were cancelled in 1992 when South Africa signed the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which required the suspension of the missile programme and destruction of some facilities at the Overberg Test Range. South Africa’s civil space programme continued at the site but suffered from lack of funding, which resulted in the winding down of the nation’s space programmes, including the GreenSat reconnaissance satellite. Some experts from the South African space sector suggest the revamping of the Overberg launch facilities for civil and commercial space programmes.
The Howteq facilities located in the Elgin Valley, Western Cape – where Denel Spaceteq (a state-owned satellite manufacturer) is situated – include thermal vacuum chambers, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) test facility, a mechanical and acoustic vibration facility, and clean rooms for the design and development of satellites.
The Hermanus and Hartebeesthoek facilities were established for space science research and space operations of SANSA and other collaborating entities. The Hermanus facilities include Space Weather Centre, Science Centre, Magnetically clean facility, Helmholtz Coil, Temperate Chamber, and Non-magnetic Screening Chambers are situated.
These facilities provide invaluable space science data and enabling environment for space research and development to flourish in South Africa while helping both national and international entities meet their obligations.
SANSA’s vision of making South Africa an international hub for space technology continues to receive government support and growing international collaboration.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.