South Africa and NASA Renew Lunar Exploration Partnership

Republished from SANSA

DG DSI, Dr Mjwara and NASA’s Badri Younes sign the letter of intent to commence with construction of a LEGS antenna

National Aeronautics Space Agencies (NASA) and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) have renewed their partnership in lunar exploration with the groundbreaking new communications facility that will help the Artemis missions return humans to the Moon.

According to a press release by SANSA, Badri Younes, Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program, joined SANSA officials on Tuesday, November 8, in Matjiesfontein( MTJ), South Africa, for the groundbreaking event at the future site of the new Lunar Exploration Ground Sites (LEGS) antenna.

The ceremony preceded the signing of a Letter of Intent between NASA and the South African Department of Science and Innovation to formalise the space exploration partnership. Located approximately 240 kilometres (150 miles) Northeast of Cape Town, MTJ will be one of three 18 to 24-metre communications LEGS antennas strategically placed around the globe to ensure near-continuous connectivity between astronauts on NASA’s Artemis spacecraft and those who subsequently come to work on and around the lunar surface.

“Location, weather and existing infrastructure make Matjiesfontein the ideal place to build this antenna,” said Younes. ”We could not have asked for a better spot on Earth than here in South Africa, with whom we first partnered six decades ago to land the first humans on the lunar surface.”

South Africa was home to a ground tracking station outside Johannesburg at Hartebeesthoek (HBK) that played a critical role in NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1960s. Artemis, named for Apollo’s sister, will land the first woman and person of colour on the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a stepping stone to send astronauts to Mars.

“We see this partnership as mutually beneficial,” said Dr Phil Mjwara, DSI Director General. “Matjiesfontein ground station will alleviate increased demand for NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), allowing Artemis to meet its goals and expand our scientific knowledge of key challenges to astronaut health and safety, such as space radiation, altered gravity fields, isolation and confinement, closed environments, and extreme and prolonged distance from Earth.”

MTJ will join future LEGS facilities at NASA’s White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico and a still-to-be-determined location in Australia. Additionally, With a LEGS station in North America, South Africa, and Australia, the Moon will always be in Earth’s view to ensure essential, enhanced direct-to-Earth communications capabilities up to two million kilometres away through NASA’s Near Space Network (NSN).

According to aid Tiaan Strydom, SANSA acting Commercial Services Executive, “We are pleased that this project has reached a significant milestone with the support of the Department of Science and Innovation as well as the partnership of NASA. Matjiesfontien ground station extends SANSA space capabilities and specialisation, taking the agency a notch higher as a global player in space science and technology”.

Furthermore, SCaN’s Younes stated, “The Moon brought NASA and South Africa together 60 years ago. I am so pleased it did again today.”