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Jan 16, 2009

Russia to offer technical support for new SA space agency

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Russia’s renowned space agency, Roscosmos, will support the establish- ment of South Africa’s new space agency, which will hopefully be set up this year, while the two countries will also significantly develop their cooperation in biotechnology, nanotechnology and high-performance computing during the course of the year. Science and technology, in general, is emerging as the most successful sphere in which cooperation is developing between the two countries.

Russian support for South Africa’s space agency will come in the form of tech- nical advisory assistance and training for South African space industry specialists and experts. The two countries are already working on the creation of a Russia-South Africa Permanent Working Group on Space.

Regarding cooperation in biotechnology, nanotechnology and high-performance computing, a high-level workshop involving lead-ing South Afican and Russian stakeholders in these areas will be held in South Africa next month. The aim will be to create permanent working groups with dedicated national contact points in each of these fields, which are regarded as priority research areas by both countries. In addition, it is hoped that in March South Africa’s National Research Foundation and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research will sign a memorandum of understanding which will permit the allocation of targeted funding for joint research projects in biotechnology, nanotechnology and high-performance computing.

Last November, South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) director- general Dr Phil Mjwara led a delegation to Russia. Roscosmos was one of the agencies they visited. Their talks with the Russian space agency encompassed assistance for South Africa’s new space organisation as well as other issues, including the launch of South Africa’s Sumbandila microsatellite.

The South African delegation also visited, and held discussions with, Russian com- pany NPO Lavochkin, which makes the Soyuz rocket on which SumbandilaSat will be launched. The launch will now take place on March 25. SumbandilaSat was originally meant to have been launched in 2007, from a Russian Navy submarine, on a converted Shtil submarine-launched ballistic missile. That arrangement fell through, for reasons that have never been officially divulged (but see Engineering News February 8, 2008). The prime contractor for that launch was Russia’s Makeev Design Bureau, which specialises in submarine rocket launches.

Following the trip to Russia by Mjwara and the DST delegation, it was agreed at the meeting of the South Africa-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation (Itec), held in Durban on November 24 and 25, 2008, that the DST would sign two addenda to the 2006 SumbandilaSat launch agreement. The first of these addenda extends the life of the original contract between the DST and Makeev, while the second appoints NPO Lavochkin as Makeev’s subcontractor for the launch of the microsatellite. (The South African and Russian delegations to Itec were headed by Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev respectively.)

Sumbandila is a low earth orbit observation microsatellite and its main payload is a 6,5-m multispectral imager – that is, the imager has a resolution of 6,5 m × 6,5 m at an altitude of 500 km. It, and its imager, were designed, developed and assembled by South African specialist microsatellite technology company SunSpace & Information Systems.

Another outcome of the Itec meeting was that the DST and Roscosmos will consider cooperation in the area of remote sensing. On a commercial basis, Roscosmos could provide South Africa’s Satellite Applications Centre (currently part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) with the technology and software to use data from Russian earth observation satellites.

Also on their trip to Russia, Mjwara and the DST delegation held talks on biotechnology, nanotechnology, high-performance computing and related human capital development, with the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow State University, and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. Subsequently, the two countries agreed to facilitate the creation of strategic research partnerships between Moscow State University and top South African research institutions, especially in high-performance computing, nanotechnology and biotechnology.



Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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