To grow, Industries need to adapt technology thick and fast

To grow, Industries need to adapt technology thick and fast


Space Science and related Technologies have a tremendous role in a State’s development. What areas of space research is South Africa working with and what are the areas that you will endeavor in the coming days?
Pontsho Maruping
Chief Director, Frontier Programmes -DST South Africa

Q. Space Science and related Technologies have a tremendous role in a State’s development. What areas of space research is South Africa working with and what are the areas that you will endeavor in the coming days?

A. South Africa has already proved its capabilities in space with the launch of our first micro-satellite in1999, which was designed indegeniously and built.

This created the foundation to continue research in satellite engineering which has been further strengthened to allow us to design and build our next generation satellite.

The research and development in areas including material science, control systems, sensor development, reaction wheels, telecommunications units, imaging systems and broader areas such as systems engineering is going at a good pace. In future we would need to expand our programmes to cover the full value chain of satellite development and applications.

The Southern clear skies have also enabled South Africa to participate in exciting astronomy projects and building critical skills in areas such as mechanical and electronics engineering as well as a critical mass in space science research.

The key areas of research include astronomy, space physics and cosmology. In the space science area, South Africa intends to play a significant role in the international projects such as the development of the Karoo Array Telescope which is a demonstrator for the much larger Square Kilometer Array Telescope, the SALT and HESS programmes which are entering their next development phases also present opportunities.

Q.Would you tell us about the status of SUMBANDILAsat which is scheduled to be launched by the end of the year? What are the unique features of SUMBANDILAsat in particular?

A. The satellite development has met all its milestones and a Flight Acceptance Review will take place later this month. This means that at that stage it would be certified as ready for launching.

Coming to the specifics, the satellite imager has six spectral bands (in the visible range) and a ground sampling distance of 6.25m at an orbit altitude of 500km. The data storage capacity is 24Gbyte.

The value of the six spectral bands is that they provide the ability to distinguish various things. The table below illustrates and provides examples of areas of application of the various spectral bands.

Q.As other countries that have already established in space science are providing services thorough out the world, do you feel there is a necessity in having an indigenously built and operated satellite system?

A. Most certainly, space is considered to be the most technology intense industry. If South Africa is looking to grow, the prerequisite would increase the technology adaptibility of our industry, training human capital, generating knowledge through research and producing high technology products. This is what the investment in space and other technology areas will allow us to achieve. The development of indigenous systems is one element of the whole chain.

Other developing countries such as China and India are using space initiatives to inspire their youth, who we all know are integral to the future of the country’s economy. In most of these countries new industries and employment opportunities are being created as a result of their ambitious space programmes. In our country, areas such as communications, infrastructure, inspiring the youth, and stimulating innovation are the best potential areas for Space technology.

Q.Building Human Resource capacity is a challenge for the most of the countries in Africa. Where does South Africa stands, especially in space research and related areas?

A. It is a challenge in South Africa too, however, I believe we are tackling the issue head on. Our human capital programmes have been growing each year and there is a commitment of continued emphasis on them. New instruments such as the Centres of Excellence and the Research Chairs are meant to give us more options to develop our human capital.

Q.South Africa has been a key player in the space related research. Is there any National Space Policy that governs these activities?

A. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Space Council are in the process of developing the space policy to support our activities in Space. At the same time the Department of Science and Technology (DST) is preparing a framework for the establishment of the Space Agency and a space programme that will be implemented by the Agency.

Q.As you are going to establish a National Space Agency, what are the international collaborations that you are looking for ? What would be its vital areas that the agency will look into when becomes functional?

A. At this stage we are discussing with various nations to collaborate in space. An exciting prospect exists for an African collaboration in developing a constellation of satellites to be developed and owned by Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria and South Africa. The constellation will provide daily coverage of Africa to assist with resource and environmental management.

At the same time South Africa recently signed a bilateral agreement with the Russia Federation for collaboration in space.

The thematic programmes of the Agency will include space science, satellite communications, earth observation and navigation. The cross cutting areas are research and development, human capital development and other facilities and infrastructure.

Spectrum Applications
440-510 nm
Water bodies, soil/vegetation,
520-540 nm
Silt in water and
520-590 nm
for plant vigour
630-685 nm
690-730 nm
Plant stress
45-890 nm
Plant-biomass-estimates, water-bodies/vegetation

Q.What are the facilities available with South Africa has to monitor, forecast natural disasters and droughts in the continent?

A. We have a unique archive of 1km NOAA AVHRR Local Area Coverage (LAC) data at 1km resolution stretching back to the early 1960s for the entire Southern Africa south of the equator. Plans are currently underway to allow for online access to this data and more importantly products derived from it such as long term average vegetation production which will allow accurate analyses and predictions of drought for example.

We have also implemented a world’s first Advanced Fire Information System which makes use of real time MSG, NOAA and MODIS satellite imagery to automatically detect fires anywhere in Africa, Particularly south of the equator which is freely published on the web.