The Chief Director: Advanced Management of the Department of Trade and Industries briefed the Committee on the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched. The presentation included the processes followed by the Department for the ratification of the Conventions by South Africa, the background to the Conventions, the various stakeholders involved in the South African space programme, the legislative framework, the National Space Policy, the role of the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space and the applicable international space and related treaties.
The Committee was briefed on the main provisions and benefits of the Conventions and the implementation plan under development by the South African Council for Space Affairs. The Department of Trade and Industry retained overall responsibility for the implementation of the National Space Policy and the Conventions.
The Division Head: Space Science and Technology of the National Research Foundation explained how the activities in space impacted on every aspect of daily life. The orderly control of the space domain was important for security on Earth.
The Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industries had approved the ratification of the Conventions on 3 September 2009. The ratification of the Conventions was tabled in the National Assembly on 8 September 2009.
Members expressed dissatisfaction over the omission to invite the Committee to the workshop held in September 2009. Members asked questions concerning the development of launch capability in South Africa, the reasons for the launching of the Sumbandila satellite in Russia, the necessity for and the costs associated with building its own satellites compared to making use of the satellites owned by other countries and the development of partnerships with other countries in Africa, South America and the Indian subcontinent.
The Committee decided to continue deliberations and to recommend ratification of the Conventions during a meeting scheduled for the following week.
Presentation by Department of Trade and Industries
Ms Nomfuneko Majaja (Chief Director: Advanced Management, Department of Trade and Industries (DTI)) thanked Mr Peter Martinez from the National Research Foundation for his presence at the briefing. The DTI participated in the regulatory body which controlled space affairs. She regretted to announce that the Sumbandila satellite had not been launched as planned the previous day due to bad weather. She hoped that the launch would take place that night.
Ms Majaja explained that the DTI had followed a process with the ratification of the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects and of the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched. On 1 July 2009 the DTI had presented the Conventions to the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industries. On 2 September 2009 an interactive workshop was held with stakeholders, including the Department of Science and Technology (DST), SunSpace (who had manufactured Sumbandila), the
Ms Majaja outlined some of the activities resulting from the use of outer space. Satellite imagery could be used to plan the development of urban areas and provide warnings of dangerous weather systems and fires. The activities of the United Nations (UN) were aided. Dam and water levels could be monitored and planning could be enhanced. Floods and sea temperatures could be monitored. Satellite imagery could assist with the control of traffic in the air, on the ground and at sea. Another major use of satellite technology was for communications. There were spin-off benefits for high technology industries. There were applications even in terms of security and livestock control. Water purification systems had been developed from technology used on spacecraft.
Ms Majaja said that a number of Government departments were involved in space technology. The DTI was responsible for policy and industrial development, regulation and international co-operation. The Satellite Application Centre at Hartebeeshoek received satellite images. Satellite communications and research were high technology areas, involving were many institutions. The National Research Foundation (NRF) was responsible for astronomy and reported to the DST. The Overberg Test Range (OTR) reported to the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE). Houwteq dealt with the testing and integration of satellite systems and reported to the Department of Communications (DoC). The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) reported to the DST. The CSIR was the location for the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), which was the vehicle created for the coordination of space activities. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had an interest in satellite technology. Telkom and Sentech reported to the DoC. The Hermanus Magnetic Observatory and South African Environmental Observation Network fell under the ambit of the CSIR and DST. The South African National Antarctic Programme and weather services were the responsibility of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). There were also other stakeholders such as private businesses.
Ms Majaja said that there was a need to ensure that space activities were co-ordinated. The DTI had started to develop policies in March 2009. SANSA was promulgated by Parliament early in 2009. The DST was the lead structure to pursue the possibilities. Satellites were now used mainly for civilian applications whereas military applications had been the driving force in the past. The legislative framework was the Space Affairs Act (no. 84 of 1993). The Act was amended in 1995. The South African Council for Space Affairs (SACSA) reported to the Minister of Trade and Industries. SACSA was charged with implementing the regulatory function in accordance with international agreements. The Council’s term had ended in June 2009 and Cabinet would look at reconstituting SACSA in September 2009. Cabinet had approved a space policy in 2008. This was a guiding document.
The SANSA Act had been promulgated in 2008. Once SANSA was initiated it would implement policy. The DST was the leader in terms of strategy. Three elements of the strategy were environmental and resource management, public safety and security, and innovation and economic growth. Each sector required regulation.
Ms Majaja said that the UN had established the UN Committee for the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) in 1959.
The first major treaty applicable to
Ms Majaja said that there was a question as to the importance to the country of having its own satellite rather than making use of the satellites of other countries. She listed a number of benefits associated with a South African Satellite, including the minimisation of the need to purchase expensive data and the resultant saving of foreign exchange and access to high end technology. The DTI had a national industrial policy framework, which was moving towards a knowledge based economy. High technology industries realised this. By developing its rocket science, the country would demonstrate its capability and foster economic growth. Involvement would contribute to meeting societal challenges in terms of resource management in agriculture, water affairs and disaster management. The use of satellite imagery benefited access to remote areas.
Convention on the International Liability for Damage Cause by Space Objects
The Convention on the International Liability for Damage Cause by Space Objects was drafted in 1972. Article II stated that the launching state was liable for any damage caused on Earth or to aircraft in flight. The only exception was in the case of gross negligence in which case the negligent state would be liable. Article III stated that a fault-based liability would be applicable to damage which did not occur on Earth. Article V stated that in the event of a launch being the product of a joint effort then the states concerned would be held severally and jointly liable for damages. There was a procedure for lodging claims. A claims commission would be appointed if there was any disagreement on the application of the convention. Claims would be valid for one year after the incident or from the time that the country became aware of the incident. International law governed compensation but the Convention regulated liability.
Convention on Registration of Objects Launched
The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched was adopted in 1975. All objects launched had to be registered with the UN. A register was maintained and it was the responsibility of the launching state to provide the necessary information to the UN. A national register had to be maintained and include statistical data. If more than one state was involved in the launch then the countries concerned would have to decide amongst themselves who would submit reports to the UN. All objects had to be identified with a registration number.
Ms Majaja explained the benefits of working within the Conventions. Benefits included freedom of exploration, an increase in the safety of space activities, increased credibility and confidence in
Mr Peter Martinez (Division Head: Space Science and Technology, NRF) said that space technology sounded esoteric. People questioned the expenses of space activity when there were so many priorities on Earth. There were many examples where space technology was used in everyday life, including the simple activity of listening to a weather forecast, communicating and making use of an automatic teller machine network. Space technology underpinned the information society. Most satellites were used for services on the ground. The orderly control of the domain was important. Security on Earth was linked to security in outer space. The Conventions were a vehicle to build confidence.
Mr F Adams (ANC,
Mr A Nyambi (ANC,
Mr B Mnguni (ANC,
Ms Majaja apologised for the unfortunate omission of the Committee from the invitations to the workshop. She explained that the workshop was arranged by the Portfolio Committee and not by the DTI. The DTI felt that the Members of the Committee should have been included. Members should also be invited to visit some of the space facilities, most of which were located in the
Ms Majaj said that
Mr Martinez explained that launch capability was dependent on the access to space. It was an important point as a satellite was useless while still on the ground. Sumbandila had been sitting on the ground for two years while awaiting a launch opportunity. Launch capability was a very expensive option but would raise the bar in the country's status. There had been a Government study into
Mr Adams had served in the previous Parliament. He said that Members were advised that
Mr Nyambi said that Ms Majaja was clear on the benefits of space activities. He asked how the problems surrounding the launch of Sumbandila had been handled. He asked what the implications in the event of an accident would be as
Ms Majaja explained that the name Sumbandila was a
Ms Majaja agreed that the PLO should have noticed that the Committee was not invited to the workshop. A lesson had been learned. She confirmed that it was not necessary for
Mr Martinez said that these points were close to his heart. He had received photographs of the satellite being fitted into the rocket that would launch it into orbit. The Russians had agreed to display a South African flag on the launch vehicle.
Regarding possible damage caused by Sumbandila, Mr Martinez explained that the onus would fall on
Ms E van Lingen (DA,
Mr Adams asked what the relative costs were of manufacturing satellites compared to renting foreign satellites. The SAA was promulgated in 2008 and he asked why the country could not make the necessary investment in its own space programme. He felt that the funding of foreign projects was pouring money down the drain.
Ms Majaja said that she was very impressed with the strong recommendation. She confirmed that
Mr Edwin Conroy (Researcher, Office of the Chief Whip of the National Council of Provinces) said that meteorological information was obtained from satellites. The need for meteorological information extended the debate on whether
Mr Martinez said that a number of other African countries would become part of the partnership at different levels.
The Chairperson hoped that the Committee and the Department could meet again to take the process forward. He assured the Department that the Committee wished to deal with the issues swiftly. The Committee’s role in the international relations sphere involved many treaties and conventions. There was a need to engage on international matters. The Committee planned to hold deliberations during the following week.
Mr Adams proposed that the Committee took the opportunity to recommend the ratification of the Conventions at the meeting scheduled for the following week. His proposal was seconded by Mr N Maine (ANC,
Ms Majaja suggested that another workshop was scheduled.
The Chairperson announced that the Members of the Committee would proceed with other work and excused all other persons present from the continuation of the meeting.
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