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CSIR eyes satellite data requirements in South Africa

Johannesburg, 13 March 2008 – The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) Satellite Applications Centre is canvassing industry about the country’s future satellite data requirements.

“Our aim is to ensure sustainable access to high-resolution imagery beyond our existing capabilities,” says Dr Corné Eloff, manager of the CSIR’s Earth Observation Service Centre. He was speaking after a conference at the CSIR’s Hartebeeshoek facility that brought together over 60 representatives of the science body’s clients.

Eloff says the CSIR is also particularly keen to upgrade service infrastructure and, with the current SPOT 5 imagery contract, due for renewal in March 2009, the CSIR needs to revisit the national data requirements.

The current deal is funded by a consortium of government departments and entities, including Statistics SA, the Demarcation Board, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Independent Electoral Commission, Eskom, and a range of national departments including science and technology, agriculture, water affairs and forestry, environmental affairs and tourism, provincial and local government, and defence.

Under the contract, SA has access to SPOT 5-generated 2.5m resolution orthorectified (or topographically corrected) image mosaics.

The CSIR says the data has been well used, with 45-plus government departments and “all” local tertiary education institutions utilising it free of further charge for planning and research purposes.

Free imagery for Africa

In a related development, the CSIR has pledged free earth observation data to all African countries 5° south of the equator. The CSIR’s latest newsletter says the move follows a decision announced at last year’s GEO summit, in Cape Town, that SA would supply images generated by the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS) free to its neighbours.

“The availability of CBERS images to African countries has been made possible through the willingness of partners China … and Brazil … to waive fees for the downlink system, as well as the access fee,” the newsletter explains.

The countries that stand to benefit are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, SA, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“…the CSIR is committed to the concept of data democracy for developing countries,” said CSIR spokesman Alex Fortescue. “It is our view that only by broadening data access and capacity to end-users in developing countries, will the full potential of earth observation data be exploited successfully worldwide.”

African footprints

Fortescue also explained the practicalities of delivering images to these countries: “…the CSIR [last November] negotiated to use spare capacity on Eumetsat’s (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites) Geonetcast, which will allow easy downlink over Africa through geostationary communications satellites. This makes it possible for us to deliver images to anyone within our footprint.

“Eumetsat delivers weather and climate-related satellite data, images and products – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This information is supplied to the National Meteorological Services of the organisation’s 20 member and 10 cooperating states in Europe, as well as other users worldwide,” he adds.

“Technical requirements for potential recipients are reasonably simple. All that is needed is an affordable PC card in a computer and a TV aerial.”

In theory, anyone with these technical components can receive the images. This could, for example, be a school in Malawi or a government department in Angola, Fortescue explains.

Use of the images ranges from capacity-building to the monitoring of natural disasters and land cover changes, as a result of drought, desertification and deforestation. Other possible applications include the use of such images in the mitigation of threats to agricultural production and to public health.

CBERS-2B, launched in September 2007, orbits sun-synchronously at an altitude of 778km, with 14 revolutions a day to achieve complete coverage of the earth in 26 days. It consists of a charge-coupled device camera, an infrared multispectral scanner camera, a wide-field imager camera and a transponder for the Brazilian environmental data collection system.

The CBERS programme commenced in 1988 and is run by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. The programme has launched three satellites to date, with two more in the pipeline.