At the moment, the country is reliant on international satellites for information about its 1.2-million km² area, excluding its oceans. Reliance on foreign satellites also means that South African satellite-data users, which include about 40 national and provincial government departments, have no control over what images they are sent, what the images focus on and when they will get them.
Jane Olwoch, the head of Sansa’s earth observation directorate, says the space agency buys the Spot-6 and Spot-7 data – used by entities such as the departments of human settlements, agriculture, forestry and fisheries and Statistics South Africa – for about R35-million a year.
With about R292-million earmarked for its design, manufacture and launch, EO-Sat1 will add not only to the country’s ability to monitor its water, agriculture, natural forests and human settlements, but also the continent’s. It will form part of the African Resource Management Constellation, a group of African countries that plan to launch a network of earth observation satellites. In 2009, four African countries – South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Kenya – committed to contributing at least one satellite to the constellation, which will focus on earth observation and natural resource management. Nigeria already has two satellites, one of which is part of the constellation.
Unlike other African countries, South Africa has experience in building satellites. The R25-million low-earth-orbit satellite, SumbandilaSat, was launched in 2009, but was beleaguered with technical problems throughout the two years that it was in operation.