The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) has a number of exciting opportunities for the next few years, CEO Dr Val Munsami told Engineering News Online on Monday. These include collaborations with other countries in Africa as well as with major global space agencies.
Some of the proposed projects are so recent that Sansa has not yet made a decision on them. "For example, we are in conversations with the European Space Agency about deepening our cooperation," he cited.
"There is a good chance that South African experiments could, within the next few years, be mounted on interplanetary space probes from major space agencies," he reported. "Some discussions are already taking place. Such a development would stimulate science locally and make space more attractive for South Africans, as well as making South Africa an even more attractive partner in space projects."
With regard to cooperation with other African countries, memoranda of understanding (MoUs) have already been signed with Gabon and Nigeria, while the MoU with Algeria should be renewed later this month. A draft MoU has been developed and is being discussed with Egypt.
Of these countries, Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria own and operate small Earth observation (EO) satellites. South Africa continues to develop its own national EO satellite, currently designated EOSat-1.
"EOSat-1 is progressing," reported Munsamy. "The preliminary design review for EOSat-1 will be completed this month. The rest of this year will be devoted to the critical design review. Thereafter, the focus will be on the development of the engineering and flight model."
The related programme to upgrade the satellite test and development facilities at the Houwteq complex in the Western Cape was under way. This was the responsibility of State-owned defence industrial group Denel.
"But the funding challenges for EOSat-1 have not disappeared," he cautioned. The Sansa CEO and the relevant departmental directors-general will approach the National Treasury for assured funding. Development of a satellite is a sustained commitment.
"Countries are looking to collaborate with South Africa with regard to developing satellites," highlighted Munsamy. "It is essential that EOSat-1 be finished and launched. If not, there will be reputational risk for the country. Also, we would not be meeting the needs of our local users, for whom we are building the satellite."
Originally, EOSat-1 was meant to be launched in 2019. But that has slipped to 2020 or even 2021.