South African specialist microsatellite company Sun Space & Information Systems (SunSpace), which is based in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, has been negotiating for the past two years with the government over the State buying equity in the company.
On Friday, South Africa’s Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) announced that, in its meeting on February 10, the Cabinet had, in principle, decided to acquire between 55% and 60% of SunSpace, “in order to retain South Africa’s national space capabilities”.
“We would like to conclude the deal as soon as possible,” SunSpace CEO Bart Cilliers told Engineering News Online. “It will probably be done in June or July.”
It was the company that initiated the discussions on selling a stake to the State. “We did so because the satellite business is geopolitically sensitive,” he explained. “Most clients are governments and they want to know that the manufacturer has the support of its home government. This deal shows solid government support and assures the stability and longevity of the company.”
The idea that the government should not take 100% of the company, but that it become a partnership between the public and private sectors, was supported by the Minister of Science and Technology. “This is a good mix,” argued Cilliers. “It combines government support with private initiative.”
The GCIS statement reported that the Ministers of Finance, Trade and Industry, and Science and Technology would agree the most prudent financing for the purchase of the equity in the company.
SunSpace is the manufacturer of South Africa’s 81-kg Earth observation microsatellite, Sumbandila, which is currently undergoing its commissioning process in orbit. The microsatellite’s main payload is a 6,25-m multispectral imager – that is, the imager has a resolution of 6,25 m x 6,25 m. This imager was also designed, developed, and made by SunSpace.
SunSpace was spun off by the University of Stellenbosch to exploit the expertise developed in the design, assembly, and operation of the university’s own private-initiative satellite, SunSat, which, in 1999, became the first South African satellite to reach orbit.