Africa needs the support of space-based products, services and products to achieve its development goals. This was highlighted by South African National Space Agency (Sansa) CEO Dr Val Munsami in his address to the thirty-seventh International Symposium on Remote Sensing of the Environment, in Pretoria, on Monday.
"Africa covers 22% of the Earth's [land] area and 6% of the global surface area," he pointed out. "There are 55 countries in Africa. Africa is the world's hottest continent with over a third being desert. Over 90% of the soil is unsuitable for agriculture." Africa also suffers from poverty but is rich in mineral and hydrocarbon resources.
The African Union (AU) has, he noted, eight directorates with, between them, a total of 40 assigned objectives. Of these, Munsami observed, 35 need space support. But South Africa is the only African country in the top 30 countries in terms of space expenditure and research output.
However, the AU adopted an African Space Policy and an African Space Strategy in January last year. The AU further directed that studies be done on the governance structure for African space activities; space capability audits; and the Implementation Plan. Some progress has been done on all of these issues. With regard to space, some 14 user requirements for Africa have been identified.
South Africa was exploring two initiatives in particular, he reported. The first, a spin-off from the needs of the giant international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project (Phase 1 of which will be co-hosted by South Africa and Australia), is high performance computing. Because of the SKA, South Africa has been developing high performance computing. This capability can, however, also be applied to other areas. One other such area, identified as a priority by South Africa, is Earth observation.
The second initiative is the Pan African Space University, for which South Africa has been granted the hosting rights. This will focus on three core areas -- space engineering, space science and space applications -- and a number of important but ancillary fields.
"One of the key aspects is: how do we bring together all the institutes we have in countries and [on the] continent to shape an African space programme?" queried Munsami. He highlighted the importance of partnerships in this regard.