The South African government has said it will prioritize work on the commencement of the Pan African University Institute of Space Sciences following the assumption of the office of Chairperson of the African Union by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
During a budget speech delivered yesterday, South Africa’s Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said: “President Ramaphosa has been elected Chairperson of the African Union. We shall commence work on the Pan African University for Space Sciences Institute at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.”
The PAU Institute of Space Science is the fifth node of the Pan African University (PAU), a network of post-graduate research programs in five regions in Africa. PAU was launched in 2011 by the African Union Commission to foster excellent research in key development fields and enhance the attractiveness and global competitiveness of African higher education and research.
The PAU Institute nodes were awarded to leading research universities in specific development fields, spread across the eastern, central, northern, southern and western sub-regions of Africa. The selection follows a competitive process that considers the university’s core research excellence.
The host of the space-focused node was awarded to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) to be implemented in collaboration with a consortium of six other South African universities working in various fields of space sciences, on behalf of the Southern African region.
The establishment of the PAU Institute of Space Sciences corroborates AU’s drive to grow indigenous capacity in space science and technology in line with the African Space Policy and Strategy, a continent-wide space sector development framework approved by the AU in January 2016.
The Institute originally planned to commence programme by February 2019, but that did not happen. Some sources familiar with the process attributed the setback to delays in finalizing an agreement between the AU and the South African government, as well as other obvious bureaucratic hurdles in implementing projects of such significance, such as challenges in identifying funding sources.
However, the Minister disclosed yesterday that funding for the Institute will likely come from the Africa Renaissance Fund, an Africa-focused fund initiated in 2001 by the South African government to enhance development on the continent.
Dr Valanathan Munsami, CEO of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), in a recent tweet, described the government’s decision to prioritize the establishment of the Institute as “a significant step for space in Africa.”
“Our Minister of Finance in his budget vote speech today committed to the establishment of the Pan African University Space Science Institute, as the President’s intervention during his tenure as the Chair of the African Union. This is a significant step for space in Africa,” Munsami tweeted.
On domestic development in South Africa’s space sector, SANSA has developed a new strategic plan for its national space program in the next five years with a wider focus on Africa. The new plan is awaiting formal approval by the government and will take effect from April 1, the beginning of the next financial year.
“The new strategic plan has a wider focus than our previous one, looking at Africa and not just South Africa,” Munsami told Engineering News & Mining Weekly in a recent interview. “This is because of the space initiatives spearheaded by the African Union. Also, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has now agreed to set up a SADC space programme, for which we are currently developing a SADC Space Strategy.”
South Africa boasts of one the best organically-grown space sector on the continent and a good model for emerging space nations owing to its thriving NewSpace cluster and research universities with globally-competitive capacity in manufacturing small satellite subsystems, optical and imaging payloads, space weather and space operations capabilities.
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.