Space Policy & Implications of the Conventions on Space Objects: Stakeholder briefings

Science and Technology

31 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms J Fubbs (ANC) & Co-Chairperson: Mr. N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committees on Trade and Industry and on Science and Technology, sitting jointly, were briefed by stakeholders on South Africa’s National Space Policy and the implications of the Convention on International Liability for Damage caused by Space Objects and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. The Department of Trade and Industry provided an overview of the South African National Space Policy, and set out the policy statement and principles, the objectives and the general implementation guideline, including how it was to be monitored and evaluated. The policy would guide the programme strategy developed by the Department of Science and Technology, and the two together served as a guiding framework for the space arena within South Africa. South Africa needed a space policy because of its increasing reliance on space technology, and Government’s commitment to space and its increasing participation in international space related activities such as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN COPUOS), the International Communications Union (ICU) and others. 

The Department of Science and Technology gave a presentation on the SumbandilaSat programme and pointed out various socio-economic benefits that could be derived from investing in satellite technology. The project involved investment of R26 million and was experimental in nature, exploring ground-breaking issues such as micro-gravity and the challenges of working in space in terms of physical well-being and diet. The Committee was provided with the specifications of SumbandilaSat with respect to its capabilities and its applications that would include mineral mapping, monitoring air quality using remote sensing, and evaluation of vegetation and weather patterns.

The Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, SunSpace and the University of Stellenbosch then briefed the Committee on some further technical aspects of the country’s space programme and their views as to why it was important that South Africa should ratify the Conventions.

Members asked several questions seeking clarity on aspects of the presentation, including asking for examples as to what could and could not be offered by the technology. The distinction was drawn between air space and outer space. Members enquired whether municipalities had a role to play in the uses and applications of satellite technology, what other departments would be involved, who was responsible for monitoring research done by universities, whether that research was widely known and accessible, if it would be used to introduce school learners to space science, and when the first monitoring and evaluation reports might become available. Some Members expressed concerns about control of space science capabilities by overseas players. Members asked for a further explanation on telemedicine and whether it was of benefit to those in rural areas, and asked how the information was to filter down to all areas. Members asked what the Conventions contained in regard to liability in the case of joint arrangements, the liability in respect of damage caused by any as-yet-unknown objects in space, whether the Conventions were binding, and who would be responsible for managing the various programmes, as also who would maintain the South African satellite that would shortly be launched.

Meeting report

South African National Space Policy (SANSP) and international conventions briefings: Department of Trade and Industry (dti)
Briefing by Ms Nomfuneko Majaja: Chief Director in the Department of Trade and Industry on the South African National Space Policy (SANSP)
Ms Nomfuneko Majaja, Chief Director: Department of Trade and Industry, introduced the South African National Space Policy (SANSP), which had been adopted by Cabinet in December 2008 and had been launched by the former Minister in March 2009. She noted that her presentation would link the policy to the programme strategy which had been developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST). These documents served as a guiding framework for the space arena within South Africa. It was fortunate that they had been developed around the same time, had been presented to Cabinet at the same time, and had thus been approved on the same day.

The Committee was shown pictures of the facilities in the space arena which included the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) and a combination of a number of space applications in urban planning and development and disaster management in terms of monitoring cyclones and the progression of fires. These were to illustrate the various applications that could be obtained from space technology. The Committee was also shown pictures of other space applications in communications and broadcasting, navigation and positioning for air traffic as well as marine traffic and natural resource management. Space was also a big stimulus for high technology industry and could be used to monitor environmental change.

Ms Majaja provided an overview of the SANSP, which included an introduction stating the policy, the principles of the policy as well as the objectives and then the general implementation guideline in terms of how the Department of Trade and Industry (dti or the Department) was going to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the policy. It was noted that although legislation had been promulgated in 1993 not much had taken place after that. The Department had realised that it required a more coordinated and strategic approach. There were a number of public institutions that relied on space technology, but these institutions were not coordinated in their manner of working and had their own policy frameworks for guiding decisions on the pursuit and funding of space-related activities, which was wasteful on government resources.

The need for space policy was necessitated by the country’s increasing reliance on space technology and Government’s commitment to space and its increasing participation in international space-related activities such as the United Nations (UN) corpus, the International Communications Union and many others.  All this required the dti to be strategic and more coordinated in its way of working.

Ms Majaja presented on the legislative and guiding framework for the SANSP. The Space Affairs Act promulgated in 1993 mandated the Minister of Trade and Industry to determine the policy to be followed in the Republic. The dti had done this in consultation with the Council and other relevant ministries and departments. The policy was expected to provide guidance to all the stakeholders in South Africa’s space arena, both public and private stakeholders. The policy would also inform South African participation in space activities and promote improved coordination and cooperative governance. It had to do this by promoting and supporting relevant scientific research to promote capacity building as well as stimulating innovation, competition and industrial development. Ms Majaja submitted that the policy was laying the foundation for the strategy that was embedded in its guidelines. The programme strategy of the DST was in response to their 10-year innovation plan, in which space technology was one of the five grand challenges. The strategy built on the policy foundation and drew key priority programme areas which would be highlighted by the DST’s presentation.

Ms Majaja noted that the policy would be governed in terms of national instruments that would be driven by the two line Departments, the dti and the DST. The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) would serve as a coordination institution vehicle. She also presented the policy statement as reflected on page 11 of the presentation, the policy principles on page 13, the policy objectives on page 15-17 and general implementation guidelines as reflected from page 19-27 of the presentation (see attached document)

Ms C Kotsi (COPE) submitted that although Members had been briefed previously on this international agreement there were certain areas still needing clarification. She asked how the slide showing vegetation in an area linked with environmental protection.

Ms Kotsi commented that the SANSP seemed to concentrate a lot on international space, but wondered whether there was anything that focused on domestic space. There were a lot of private companies that were using space, and she cited that in Stellenbosch aircraft were causing a nuisance to the communities. She asked if there was any protection to the communities. She was not sure whether the municipalities had any power, other than extracting fees.

The Chairperson noted that “space” in this presentation was referring to “outer space”, which clearly extended beyond the reach of aircraft and airspace.
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) asked whether municipalities had a role to play in the uses and applications of satellite technology such as urban planning and development and environmental management. She also wanted to know whether the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs had a role in these matters.

Ms Majaja responded that there were various other government departments responsible for implementing the SANSP. The DST would serve as an institutional vehicle to coordinate the various activities that had been mentioned in the presentation. Others that were involved were the Departments of Communications, and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and they were able to use this information obtained from satellites to be able to work on their various programmes.

Ms Dunjwa asked who was responsible for monitoring research done by universities, whether that research was widely known and accessible and whether it would be of benefit to ordinary South Africans.

Ms Dunjwa asked whether monitoring and evaluation had been done in the past 10 years and if there were reports that could be made available to the Committee.

Ms Majaja responded that the contents of the policy, its objective and principles, would be reviewed after ten years. However the monitoring and evaluation would take place at periodic intervals, which could be a few years later, to assess whether there had been any progress. It would not actually take ten years before monitoring could start to take place. The ten-year review would be assisted by the periodic evaluation and monitoring during that ten-year period. She also emphasised that as this was a national space policy for the country, there were other government departments implementing the same policy. The DST was a major stakeholder, and it would be establishing the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), which would serve as an institutional vehicle to coordinate the various activities that she had spoken about in her presentation. Other departments had been mentioned earlier.

Ms Dunjwa asked how the dti and the DST would assist Department of Basic Education to ensure that young learners who had never been exposed to space science became involved with the subject from a young age, not when they were already adults.

Ms Fubbs asked Ms Majaja to clarify in a sentence or two exactly what she meant by the SANSP in order to bring clarity to members.

Ms Majaja responded that the SANSP was a guiding framework of how space activities should be undertaken in South Africa. She also said that “space” meant anything beyond airspace, where the satellites were sent, and went beyond what could be seen with the naked eye.

Ms P Mocumi (ANC) submitted that she was now more confused than ever with the reference to outer space, because she now did not understand how the issues of vegetation came in if reference was being made to outer space. 

Ms Fubbs commented that there had been a 67% turnover in the new Parliament, and although Ms Majaja had given a very good presentation, it highlighted the need also to explain matters from the beginning and not assume that Members had been present at earlier briefings.

Mr Ngcobo agreed that most of the Members were new to the Committee, if not to Parliament. He clarified that space policy was concerned with how to utilise satellites that were in space to observe things on earth, and then how to utilise that knowledge and information gained from the satellite observations to solve some of the problems and to explore oceans and land using the technology. On 15 September the first South African satellite would be launched in Russia. This would assist the African continent, as it did not currently have satellites in orbit in outer space to assist with things like navigation of aircraft. That was why, for instance, some flights to African countries went to Europe first because the technologies for navigation of these flights only in Africa were unavailable.

Ms Fubbs commented that this would give Ms Majaja a useful framework from which to make a response.

Ms Majaja agreed that the Chairperson had succinctly set out how space could assist scientists on earth to observe a number of things. For instance, the pictures of Midrand in 1985 and in 2001, which were taken by satellites, had assisted scientists to see the developments that had taken place in that time period and also illustrated the change in the environment as they had shown that vegetation which was present in that area in 1985 was no longer present in 2001. The information that was obtained from satellites would actually help in better planning and preparation for challenges. She said that satellite pictures could be used to warn of and show how best to manage disasters such as flood and fires.

Department of Science and Technology (DST) Presentation
Mr Ngcobo made some introductory remarks. There was likely to be much of interest emerging from the launch of the satellite in Russia on 15 September 2009. DST had promised to have Members attend the launch. Space science was an applied science that covered a wide variety of areas including defence systems, health, and agriculture and poverty alleviation. Very important questions had been asked by Members, particularly on the risk that space capabilities could be exploited by foreigners because of skills shortages. Africa had an important role to play in space exploration because of its unique position, which provided a clear view of space. This allowed scientists to see stars that were very far from earth and beyond the limits of space. The Committee had previously visited Sutherland. A property developer in that area had been denied permission to construct a golf course in the area because it would probably interfere with the monitoring of space. Members as policy makers should know that communities were protected as the country developed its outer space research capabilities.

Dr Val Munsami Chief Director, Department of Science and Technology, indicated that he understood the challenge that had come through from the earlier presentation on the explanation of what a satellite was and how it was put into orbit. He provided the Committee with an illustration to demonstrate how a satellite was launched and how it was put into orbit around the earth. He explained that there were sensors that were placed on the satellite, such as image sensors, that would have different resolutions to take images of the surface of the earth. This was where the issue of the different applications, such as monitoring of vegetation, came in. Ms Majaja had indicated to the Committee what the policy rationale was for adopting a national space programme. In addition, however, it would leverage the benefits of what space could offer in terms of the country's socio-economic challenges.  Dr Munsami indicated to the Committee that his presentation would talk briefly about the SumbandilaSat, developments in space science and technology and the motivation for ratification of the space and related conventions.

South Africa’s space programme had been halted in the early nineties, and a lot of the human capital had remained within the system. The SumbandilaSat programme was one of many which kept this human capital afloat, although there was a lot more that the Department needed to do in terms of human capital development. There were many socio-economic benefits that could be derived from investing in satellite technology. Dr Munsami informed the Committee that the SumbandilaSat was a project involving a partnership between the University of Stellenbosch and Sunspace on the one hand and the Department of Science and Technology on the other. The investment was worth R26 million and was experimental in nature. It would carry out ground-breaking exploration on issues such as micro-gravity and the challenges of working in space in terms of physical well-being and diet.

He outlined the specifications of SumbandilaSat with respect to its capabilities and its applications such as mineral mapping, monitoring air quality using remote sensing, and evaluation of vegetation specific applications. The satellite was a technology demonstrator that would ensure that South Africa would get back on the path of developing satellites.

The DST had a ten year innovation plan that had been approved by Cabinet. In that plan were five grand challenges, one of which was space science technologies.  The second key driver of the space strategy was the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) established through an Act of Parliament. The strategy had been approved in December 2009. The difference between a national space policy and a national space strategy was that the policy was essentially a guideline to all the stakeholders operating within the space sector as to what their limits were. On the other hand, the space strategy was more geared towards the implementation aspects. A process of nominating board members for the Space Agency was currently under way

The space strategy was essentially to address and inform national imperatives and policies through stimulating a sustainable space science and technology capability, growing human capital and applying scientific knowledge. For instance there were policies around climate change and environmental issues. These could be usefully monitored through the space strategy, so that they could be updated appropriately. The three goals were to capture a global market share for small to medium-sized space systems, to empower better decision making through the integration of space-based systems with ground-based systems, and to use space technologies to develop applications.

Dr Munsami also described the two relevant Conventions, namely the Convention on International Liability for Damage caused by Space Objects and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. He explained that a  liability convention would impose a liability for damage incurred by a launching state. The Committee was also informed of the concept of damage in airspace in terms of liability for compensation and damage in outer space. Dr Munsami briefed the Committee on the obligation to register all space objects and explained that this was necessary in order for information about every space object to be recorded, to mitigate against the proliferation of space debris. He noted that the Department would be asking for ratification of the two Conventions.

Ms Dunjwa had earlier expressed concern that the greater part of land in the country was owned by people from outside South Africa. She asked what the research conducted by the universities was likely to expose.

Ms H Line (ANC) shared Mr Ngcobo’s concern about control of space science capabilities by overseas players and she asked how skills transfer to local communities could take place if this continued to happen.

Dr Munsami responded that he was not completely convinced that space science was being controlled from overseas. There was a lot that South Africa had contributed to science and technology, and it was a fact that South Africa was held in very high esteem in many areas. As long as South Africa invested in research and development it would have a cutting edge. The national system of innovation was very robust and probably ranked the highest in Africa. The reason why other countries wanted to partner with South Africa was because they saw this country as the gateway into the rest of Africa, and it made a lot of sense strategically to go into international partnerships as well.

Ms Dunjwa asked whether municipalities were empowered to be able to have an early warning system for safety and security issues.

Dr Munsami responded that the Satellite Application Centre (SAC) had an archive of images. It had been discovered that some of the municipalities that had been doing rural and urban planning were looking at satellite images on Google Earth, whereas there was much higher resolution data available at the SAC, which they did not know about. Part of the focus of the national space programme was to empower those municipal officials. There was also an issue of training to allow the officials to use the satellite images and this was part of the programme.

Ms Dunjwa asked how space science could contribute to resolving the problem of crime in South Africa. She referred to a satellite application used to combat crime in Johannesburg and asked whether it could be expanded to other areas.

Ms Dunjwa asked whether tele-medicine was benefiting people in rural areas, and whether a report was able to be tabled to show which rural areas were benefiting.

Dr Munsami responded that there was some work being done on the issue of tele-medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. However it had not yet reached a mature enough stage, and the only way to get to where it should be was to insist on a technological platform that would allow it to be
operational. This essentially involved broadband in terms of the telecommunications and satellite communications aspect. There was a huge amount of scope in terms of research and development that still had to be done. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was one of the sponsors looking at some of these applications. He explained that a doctor in an urban area in Cape Town would receive images on a plasma screen of what was happening in a rural area, and be able to give advice about what was should be done for the patient in the rural area. The same applied with tele-education, where learners would be given access to educational material using a satellite platform, by beaming images into the classroom from a teacher situated elsewhere in South Africa, or indeed anywhere in the world. These kind of applications would clearly enhance the quality of life for people in the rural areas. Part of the mandate was also to build human capital, so that the Department would have a number of masters or PhD students working with it. The DST also wanted to set up Centres of Competence that would be focused on technology platforms to start investing in research and development around those platforms. It was a kind of networked structure where the universities would work with industry, government, science councils and so on.

Ms Dunjwa submitted that her question on the role of universities in research had not been answered.

Dr Munsami responded that it was part of the plan for human capital development to set up Research Chair initiatives and Centres of Competence. Research Chairs were experts at the universities in a particular field, who would conduct research on a specific application area.

Ms M Nxumalo (ANC) asked how the interrelation between the DST and the dti on the space programme would work with respect to other departments such as Education. She asked how they would ensure that learners had opportunities to study space science from an early age.

Dr Munsami responded that the handout contained a slide which spoke to the issue of foundations, infrastructure, international partnerships and human capital development, and there was other material which the presentation had not covered. The DST had a whole model that it was trying to develop on human capital development, from the level of schools right through to post-graduation. The DST had started the Professional Development Programme to fund individuals for three or four years after their studies, just to ensure that they obtained some kind of training and experience. All programmes in the DST were instructed to allocate at least 30% of their budget to human capital development, so this was very high on their agendas.

Mr Ngcobo noted that this was where the Ministry in the Presidency involved with coordinating could come in at policy level. His experience was that many departments were speaking to the same issues, but were not aware of it because of lack of coordination. This was a very relevant point.

Ms Majaja responded that the dti had developed the policy, but it was for all of South Africa. The National Space Policy was a guiding framework for what could be done and how it had to be done. The dti would thus serve as a sort of “inspector” of the other departments that were mandated to implement the policy, such as DST, who would be implementing the greater part of the policy including the area of human capital development. There would not be much of a problem, but it was necessary to ensure that there was coordination. There were a number of areas that would ensure this coordination. The Council within the dti had a regulatory committee, a policy committee and an advocacy committee, which would draw members from various departments and the implementation of programmes would be discussed at that level. These would serve as coordinating mechanisms to ensure that all agreed on what was spelt out in the policy. 

Ms Line asked about the knowledge of implementation of space science applications in rural areas, pointing out that the majority of people lived in these areas. She wondered, for instance, how many people had been at the launch of satellite in the Northern Cape. She asked how the Department could ensure that information filtered down to people in rural communities.

Dr Munsami responded that in this year and 2010, which would be the International Year of Astronomy, there would be a number of community outreach events. The issue was how this was packaged and disseminated to local communities

Ms M Nyama (ANC) asked how much of the old science was taken on board by the DST and the dti. For instance, when growing up, she was advised that there were investigations into cheaper ways to fly, and she wondered what research was being done to enable this to happen. She also cited that during a conference on witchcraft in Limpopo in 1996 there were many claims made by people that they could do certain things, and she wondered if the DST had done any investigation into the truth of these claims.

Mr Ngcobo responded that there were in fact already developments. Scientists had discovered that there were no two points on earth that could not be covered within thirty minutes and it was anticipated that in future flights would take no more than an hour. If a flight departed from one point on earth to space in a straight line, it could drop back to earth to another point in a space of thirty minutes. The problem was how passengers on such flights would be able to withstand changes in the force of gravity and the impact of leaving and re-entering the atmosphere. Another option was that offered by Russian scientists, who were developing aircraft for the future that would fly about two metres above the sea, and tests had been carried out on this so-called “black sea monster” that flew on the pressure created between the ocean and the aircraft. Other aircraft were being developed that would take off from water, and were capable of carrying up to two thousand passengers at a time. These aircraft did not fly according to conventional aerodynamics but flew more like saucers or Unidentified Flying Object (UFOs). He said that perhaps the DST could expand upon those ventures.

Ms Nyama responded that Mr Ngcobo and she were speaking at cross-purposes. She was speaking of matters that were related in the rural areas, and she was suggesting that Department should perhaps approach those who claimed to have special powers, as they could not easily admit to them.

The Co-Chairperson said that this had to do with indigenous knowledge systems.

Dr Munsami responded that this was not necessarily a space science issue.

Ms S Kalyan (DA) asked, on a point of order, whether Members could return to the main topic.

Mr Ngcobo asked Members to ask questions of clarity at this point.

Mr X Mabaso (ANC) commented that the presentation had caused him to think about the fact that South Africa was dealing with problems of drugs at schools and the proliferation of weapons. He also mentioned other problems such as oil spills and the dumping of hazardous waste. He asked whether space science technology could be used in the detection of some of these problems because this would greatly assist criminal investigations.

Dr Munsami responded that in order to realise these applications there had to be research and development (R&D) invested in the technology, through for example the Centres of Competence, which allowed the development of technologies focused on a specific area. Space applications were a focus for one of the Centres of Competence and although the Space Agency was trying to coordinate all these activities most of them would still be done by the Department.

Ms Fubbs had concerns about the liability Convention. She asked what would be the situation with damages if South Africa outsourced or partnered with another country to do the actual launching of a satellite. She wanted to know whether South Africa's calculations would be used by the launching state. She also wanted clarity on what would happen if a mistake was made in terms of the launching data that resulted in something like an incorrect orbit, and who would be responsible for any damage, or whether this would be detailed in a separate agreement.

Ms Mocumi asked whether Conventions were binding, or if it would be necessary for South Africa to pass legislation that would ensure that protection afforded by the Convention was enforceable in law.

Dr Munsami responded that the liability Convention was binding. He noted that it was related to the UN COPUOS, which was a whole host of treaties and conventions. Countries had a choice whether or not to sign. The first stage was to sign the treaty and the second stage was to ratify it at a national government level, which would essentially endorse the treaty signature, so that the treaties could start to be applied at an operational level. Therefore, the purpose of ratifying for South Africa would be that as it started to build the space programme it could hold the stakeholders to account in terms of the Liability Convention. For example, one of the activities of the Space Council was to license a launch facility. The Space Council would therefore keep a register of who was doing launch activities and this would allow it to build credibility amongst the South African stakeholders. Then, if the international community wanted to engage with South Africa, there would be that level of credibility, even though these Conventions were not necessarily binding. The same applied to the Registration Convention. This related to a country having to register to be able to use a certain part of the frequency spectrum, which related to how information was relayed to and from the satellite. This was to coordinate frequencies to ensure that a particular frequency did not interfere with other satellites in space.

Dr Munsami added that there were specific agreements with respect to the Liability Convention with the launch of the SumbandilaSat. South Africa had an agreement with the Russians, which,  in part, alluded to what would happen in the event of any dispute. This agreement therefore covered all the issues on liability.

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR): National Space Policy and the Implications of the Conventions on Space Objects
Mr Wabile Motswasele, Manager, SANSA Establishment Office gave a presentation on the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC), setting out its responsibilities in relation to the dti space policy and DST space strategy. The purpose of the presentation was to provide the context within which the SAC operated in regard to the liability and registration Conventions.

Briefing by Sunspace
Mr Ron Olivier, Director: Sunspace provided a brief overview of satellites, current and future industry developments and South Africa’s role in the local and international space industry. The Committee was also briefed on SumbandilaSat, and the presentation set out what it was and what it would be used for. The briefing also touched briefly on the issue of international space treaties

Mr Olivier gave examples of the different types of satellites such as geostationary satellites (GEO) and their applications in communications, and low earth orbit satellites (LEO) that were used for navigation and weather uses. The Committee was given approximations of the costs of these types of satellites and the major companies involved in their manufacture.

In terms of space industry developments he submitted that SunSpace was building upon its South African heritage with the objective of entering the developing world market with further products. SunSpace’s main focus was on low earth orbit satellites which were affordable and could be developed more easily, because of the existing heritage, and would handle complex technical challenges without the cost of large programmes. The developing world was waking up to small satellite possibilities and future expectations showed growing international demand for small satellites.

The role of this company was to compete globally in the international small satellite industry, in which many countries were competing for developing world small satellite orders. SunSpace was competing as part of Team RSA. SunSpace was part of a large number of small South African companies that contributed to the local space effort. SunSpace provided small satellite hardware and software as well as expert training for small satellite design, development testing and operations engineers.

In respect of the International LEO Orbit Issues, Mr Olivier submitted that the UN COPUOS was trying to introduce legislation to limit or eliminate LEO space debris, but accepted that existing debris could not be removed because there was too much debris comprised of separation hardware and spent rocket final stages and the like, and because there was no affordable existing system that could be used to remove the existing debris. The UN COPUOS accordingly was concentrating on promoting the responsible use of space as the only practical means to limit or avoid the proliferation of space debris.

Mr Olivier submitted that access to international markets for satellite manufacturers such as SunSpace depended on South Africa being seen as a responsible space user. UN treaties provided an internationally recognised platform for responsible use by guarding against misuse of orbits and launches, and provided legal cover for when space debris landed a country’s soil. SunSpace gave its unqualified support to the two UN treaties namely the Liability Convention and the Registration Convention under consideration, and urged Parliament to ratify both.

The last presentation was by Professor Herman Steyn, Professor of Satellite Engineering at the University of Stellenbosch, giving details on the SUNSAT-1 project (See attached document for details).

Mr Z Ntuli (ANC) asked whether satellite technology could be used to detect piracy, which had been a recent problem as reported in the media.

Mr Bart Cilliers, Managing Director, SunSpace, responded that Somali pirates operated from very small speed boats to attack huge ships, and would get on board and basically take the crew hostage. The SumbandilaSat had nowhere near good enough resolution to be able to spot a small boat in a large ocean, and even if the boat was detected, it would be impossible to tell who was on board and what was being carried because of the large volume of traffic at sea. The satellite would therefore be of very limited use for that particular purpose. However when it came to illegal fishing vessels in South African waters, then obviously a good photograph could show their whereabouts, and the coast patrols could go out and apprehend them, and in that way enforce the boundaries that they had for fishing waters.

Mr Ron Olivier added that the automatic identification system could work together with a transponder on ships to help identify suspect vehicles at sea. This system communicated with satellites all around the world, and ships would be asked to identify themselves. In time that would make it easier to distinguish between rogue ships and normal shipping traffic. However,  that system was not fully operational and SumbandilaSat had not been developed in time for that to be put on board the satellite.

Ms R Shinn (DA) asked which agency was going to be responsible for managing the programme of applications coming from the SAC.

Dr Munsami responded that the DST was setting the SANSA, and part of its mandate was to look at satellite applications. The DST had worked with other departments in terms of defining specific user requirements and had elicited three priority areas of environmental resource management, health safety and security and innovation and economic growth. The separate government departments would essentially remain responsible for their mandate, but the SANSA would provide them with the imagery to make necessary decisions. SANSA was responsible for acquiring data and building the satellites.

Mr Mabaso asked whether all the objects in outer space were accounted for by the international world. He asked if there was a possibility that there were objects in outer space that were not known, and what would be the legal liability situation if such objects fell on to earth.

Professor Steyn responded that the America and Russia had the capabilities to detect any object of 1cm or more using radar, and this enabled them to see what was out there in outer space.

Mr Mabaso asked how countries that did not have space capabilities protected the space that was directly above them.

Dr Munsami responded that this was a long standing issue in the UN COPUOS specifically and it had to do with where sovereignty started or ended, and the distinction between air law and space law. Outer space was for the benefit of all mankind, and no country could claim sovereignty.

A Member submitted that there were areas in the Eastern Cape that frequently experienced natural disasters almost every year. She asked whether the satellite that would be launched in September would assist in providing early warning about such events.  She also asked why, if there was sophisticated technology available internationally, this had not detected the tsunami of a few years ago.

Mr Cilliers responded that satellites were more usefully used to monitor situations such as whether informal settlements were being developed in traditional flood areas; the satellite could warn of impending storm conditions but it was preferable to ensure that no informal settlements were set up there in the first place. Satellites could, in cases of fire, provide images from time to time that would give an indication of how the fire was spreading and the direction it was taking.

Ms Munsami responded that in most instances there was talk of disaster management, but this was in response to disasters that had already taken place. How to prevent disasters from occurring in the first place would be an area of focus in the future formal space programme.

Mr Ngcobo asked who would maintain the new satellite once it was in outer space, after its launch by the Russians, pointing out that something surely had to be done to rectify anything that went wrong while the satellite was in outer space.

Mr Cilliers responded that SunSpace proposed to the DST that SunSpace continue to monitor the health of the satellite throughout its entire life by checking on a daily basis for data coming from it to see that all the systems were working. However the actual application and use of the satellite would be governed by the DST. The physical work would be carried out by the SAC in terms of national priorities. Various missions would be compiled for the satellite, these missions would be administered by SAC, and the images from the satellite would be processed and distributed to particular users.

Mr Ngcobo asked with which country South Africa was collaborating to develop this technology.

Dr Munsami responded that at the moment, most of the technology was being developed in South Africa although there were a few strategic partnerships that South Africa was currently busy setting up. DST had started an industry audit to study what existed in the space industry, and from this it would start engaging with international partners. 

Mr Ngcobo asked whether SumbandilaSat was owned by the DST, and asked for clarity on the funding relationships between SunSpace, DST, the University of Stellenbosch and the SumbandilaSat.

Dr Munsami responded that DST had put out a contract for the design and manufacture of SumbandilaSat. The University of Stellenbosch was the prime contractor, and it contracted SunSpace to manufacture the satellite. The satellite belonged to DST but in terms of operations and mission control then SunSpace, together with Stellenbosch University, would be responsible for the initial mission phase. Thereafter the SAC would come into the picture as well.

The meeting was adjourned.

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