Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor stated on Monday that her Department was looking at the possibility of reactivating and re-establishing space rocket launch facilities in South Africa.
“We did have launch facilities up until democracy, when we mothballed them,” she highlighted. “I’m investigating why we mothballed our launch facility.”
Acknowledging that the launch facilities were deactivated as part of the country’s nuclear non proliferation policy, she pointed out that rocket launch facilities are not used only for weapons purposes.
The impetus behind this is the fact that, while South Africa can and does design and build its own satellites, it is dependent on other countries to put them into space. And launches cost millions of dollars or euros.
“We are looking at ensuring that we can carry out all these [space] processes in our own domain, and spending these millions here,” she said.
These investigations are, however, in their very early stages. Full space launch capability – that is, the re-establishment of the launch facilities and infrastructure, plus the design, development and manufacture of the launch rockets – is very expensive.
However, South Africa could re-establish a launch base (launch pads, support facilities, launch control and tracking systems) and hire it out to other countries and companies, which would bring their rockets and launch them from here. For example, European rockets are launched from French Guiana in South America.
Pandor was speaking at a function at the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in which live video feed from South Africa’s new Sumbandila microsatellite was publicly shown for the first time. (The SAC is located at Hartebeeshoek, west of Pretoria).
“We intend to strengthen the technological and space skills in South Africa,” she affirmed.
“Sumbandila is a very significant development for us. Our new satellite provides us with a number of cost and competitive advantages. Pandor revealed that South Africa spends more than R60-million annually buying images from other satellite owners.
“We do take space and technological development very seriously. South Africa must never be shy of wanting to compete with the best.”