South Africa to Leverage its Space Industry for Socio-economic Growth

The participants of a recent panel session opined that the South-African space economy could help the country out of its economic issues by promoting socio-economic growth and addressing the government’s priorities. 

The panel session, titled “Maximising innovation and growth of the space economy for South Africa”, was organised by Brand South Africa, collaborating with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the Department of Science and Innovation. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened the country’s ailing economy.  It now looks to its space industry for economic reconstruction and recovery. Space-related initiatives and innovations will create a lot of financial opportunities for South Africa and aid social development.

Dr Valanathan Munsami, CEO of SANSA, noted that South Africa is leading the African space industry. It is the only country on the continent with the engineering capability to completely design and manufacture satellite communication technologies. Constrastingly, most countries on the continent rely on procuring these products and services from foreign partners. Furthermore, South Africa has the biggest and most advanced ground segment of a spacecraft system on the African continent, with about 70 different antennas on the ground station, and houses the only space weather centre in Africa.

Dr Munsami said SANSA and its ecosystem of partners have been delivering on an array of government’s national priorities relating to development in three key areas: environment and resource management; health, safety and security; and innovation and economic growth.

“There is a lot of positive momentum created around re-shaping SA’s space economy. We see a significant growth trajectory in terms of the project pipelines coming through from the space economy. Two years ago, we were looking at about R150 million (USD 10 million) of revenue coming into the system. Currently, we are sitting on a revenue stream of approximately R350 million (USD 23.4 million).

“We are trying to drive the growth as strongly as possible, and if we push forward over the next two years, that revenue stream will be approximately R18 billion (USD 1.2 billion).”

Some of the space-related projects that SANSA is currently working on with its partners include developing a telecommunications satellite that forms part of the National Telecommunication strategy, which the South African government will approve this year.

Moreover, in partnership with the ESA, SANSA plans to build a computer lab that will shorten the satellites manufacturing time. Also, it is exploring various ways of hosting teleports – using thousands of satellites to provide internet connectivity to citizens from space. It is also working on a deep space network that will allow the agency to track all the Luna and Mars missions and support global missions from foreign agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, amongst others. 

Also, Fikiswa Majola, deputy director of space systems at the Department of Science and Innovation, pointed out the local space ecosystem is poised to help SA unlock its economic growth potential and will cement its footprint in the global space landscape.

“We are looking at competitive sectors that will contribute to higher GDP growth in SA, and the space sector is one of them. A space economy report conducted by a global organisation shows there are high returns on space economy investments across the globe. Considering the funding opportunities available in SA, you can imagine how much growth that could bring into the economy,” she asserted. 



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