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Oct 25, 2013

New SA satellite committee meets while new space weather radar is unveiled

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SPACE WEATHER STATION An artist’s impression of Sansa’s SuperDARN, in Antarctica
Photo: Sansa
SPACE WEATHER STATION An artist’s impression of Sansa’s SuperDARN, in Antarctica
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South Africa’s next earth observation (EO) satellite programme, currently designated EO-Sat 1, continues to move forward, with the first meeting of the Earth Observation Mission Advisory Committee (EO MAC) having recently taken place. This committee was established by the South African National Space Agency (Sansa). “It is an external body composed of experts in earth observation, from government, universities, research institutions and industry,” explains Sansa EO MD Dr Jane Olwoch.

The space agency has almost finished compiling the user requirement specifications for the new satellite. This process saw Sansa asking the country’s EO data users, in government, universities and research councils, to supply it with their EO requirements. Armed with this information, the agency has compiled a list of specifications that meet these requirements.

“The function of the EO MAC is to look at the user requirements that we have compiled for EO-Sat 1, look at the methods we have used to compile them and advise us [whether] what we have is good enough for us to undertake food security, disaster management and environmental monitoring missions – the key missions for EO-Sat 1,” she elucidates. “Their recommendations will either allow us to call the wider users and tell them that the [EOSat-1] specifications have been endorsed, or, if they do not, then we will decide what we have to do.” As EO-Sat 1 is a South African EO satellite, contribu- tions from South African EO experts are fundamental in defining the appropriate specifications for an operational mission.

EO is one of Sansa’s four divisions, the others being Space Operations, Space Science and Space Engineering. Space science and technology is classified as one of the five major sectors in the country’s ten-year Innovation Plan. “Space impacts on our daily lives and it is impor- tant to understand that investment in space science and technology is important for our people and the economy,” stated Department of Science and Technology (DST) chief director: space science Humbulani Mudau in a recent press release.

“Sansa provides the satellite data, products and services from various EO satellites to government departments and other stakeholders for use in addressing numerous societal deficiencies, such as provision of formal housing, while understanding the movement of informal settle- ments, managing our scarce natural resources, like water, and providing real-time data for the monitoring and management of disaster and recovery, to name but a few invaluable contributions of EO satellites,” elucidated Olwoch in the same release.

Sansa celebrated the recent World Space Week (October 4 to 10) with three significant developments. The first was the inauguration, by Space Opera- tions, of its new 10-m-diameter in-orbit test antenna at its Hartebeesthoek facility, west of Pretoria (see Engineering News October 18, 2013). The second was the launch, by EO, of the 2013 edition of its Fundisa education resources disks for universities and now, also, high schools (see page 32). The third was the unveiling, by Space Science, of its new Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, or SuperDARN, which will be installed at South Africa’s Sanae IV research base in Antarctica later this year.

SuperDARN will form part of an international network of more than 30 such radars, dedicated to monitoring space weather, which is the term given to the effects the sun has on the planets (including earth) and other bodies in the solar system. This space weather can directly affect, even damage, modern human technology, including satellites (see Engineering News October 11, 2013).

South Africa’s SuperDARN was developed in-house by Sansa, for reasons of both training and permitting the creation of a local radio frequency laboratory. Its development has strengthened South Africa’s position in international space research. It is being sent to Sanae because the earth’s magnetic fields converge at the poles and so act as funnels for space plasma to enter the atmosphere. The Antarctic is thus a very important site for space weather research.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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