SA National Space Agency & SA Council for Space Affairs roles and functions: briefing by Departments of Science and Technology & Trade and Industry

Science and Technology

22 March 2011
Chairperson: Dr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Departments of Trade and Industry and Science and Technology presented the Committee with information on the nature of the two South African space agencies, South African Council of Space Affairs (SACSA) and South African National Space Agency (SANSA) as well as their goals, objectives and purpose. They started with the legislative mandate that had brought the agencies into being and what the historical background behind the rather unique two bodied structure was. They also went into detail about the international treaties and conventions of this field as well as the more detailed functions each of them would perform, were one functioned as the industry regulator and the other was an actual space actor, putting vehicles into orbit. The link between policy and strategy was important to the agencies. They spoke at length about what the space programme and the space industry would work at, but more importantly how it would benefit South Africa and its communities in terms that were more understandable for its people. This included the ever-important job creation, but also the building of a knowledge economy and providing services for the good of everyone. They also detailed how the agencies would coordinate and work together. The upcoming Astronautical Congress to be hosted in Cape Town in October was noted as a unique opportunity for South Africa and the continent of Africa.

There were questions on whether South Africa needed two space agencies or for that matter whether it needed a space programme at all. There were questions on what they had modelled the two bodies on and how many people they employed. They also wanted to know about the licensing process, development and training of the relevant skills for a space industry and the economic implementation of it. The international treaties concerned with space were also questioned, along with South Africa’s bid for the Square Kilometre Array. The members inquired who the international space actors were, both established and rising. Both departments assured the Committee of the necessity of having a space industry as it would pay off in economic and technological returns, it would also free them from a reliance on foreign powers but most importantly they would get to use the skills foundation for satellite technology that already existed in the country. There was also mention of the satellite already in orbit and what it was a preamble and technological test for. The Committee was told that for every one rand they had invested in the SumbandilaSat programme, there had been a six rand return.

Meeting report

The meeting started with the Chairperson calling for an introduction of everyone in attendance and he welcomed the Members from the Trade and Industry Portfolio Committee.

Roles and functions of SA National Space Agency & SA Council for Space Affairs
Deputy Director General: Research Development and Innovation, Val Munsami, from the Department of Science and Technology and Chief Director: Industrial Development (Advance Manufacturing), Nomfuneko Majaja, from the Department of Trade and Industry shared the presentation. They focused on the differences and relationship between the South African Council of Space Affairs (SACSA) and South African National Space Agency (SANSA) as well as their goals and objectives. The presentation provides details on the following topics:

▪ Legislative Mandate
This included references to the Space Affairs Act of 1993, with intentions to meet all international commitments and responsibilities, controlling and restricting the development, transfer, acquisition and disposal of dual-use technologies i.e. ballistic missiles used to deliver satellites into orbit as well as nuclear warheads. 

▪ Establishment of SACSA
This detailed the objects and functions of the Council as well as the activities it performed such as issuing licences, registering institutions operating in the space industry and implement matters relating to international obligations.

▪ International Conventions, Treaties and Agreements
These included the ratified Outer Space Treaty, the Rescue Agreement, the Liability Convention, the ratified Registration Convention and the Moon Agreement. South Africa also had membership in the United Nations Committee for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (


▪ South African National Space Agency Act of 2008
The Preamble detailed the promotion and use of space, cooperation in space related activities, fostering research in space science and the advancement of scientific engineering through development of human capital and support of industrial development. All this was to happen within the framework of national government policies. The Act’s objects and functions were noted. The objects included promoting a peaceful use of space, supporting industrial development, f
ostering research in space science

 plus fostering international cooperation. The functions included implementing space programmes in line with the policy determined in terms of the Space Affairs Act; advising on the development of strategies and programmes; acquiring, assimilating and disseminating space satellite imagery for any organ of state; establishing any programme in line with the national space policy for enabling technologies, development of space science, application and operations.

▪ Linking Policy and Strategy
Policy should be followed by appropriate strategy such as:
- Improve coordination in the South African Space Arena by organising some of the current space science and technology activities into strategic programmes and optimising the organisation of future space activities.
- Promote capacity building by strengthening training and technology transfer programmes.
- Foster a robust science and technology base by promoting space science and technology in academic institutions and science centres.
- Promote the development of an appropriate competitive domestic sector by developing the local private space science and technology industry sector and developing an export market for specific equipment and satellite services.
- Finally, improving cooperation with other nations by establishing partnerships with established and developing space-faring countries and responding to the challenges and opportunities of Africa.

▪ SACSA (Council) versus SANSA (Agency)
SACSA’s vision was to create and maintain a regulatory environment that enhanced South African domestic and international space activities, as well as ensuring a safe, reliable, and sustainable space activity for societal benefit through developmental measures. SACSA’s objectives were to support, review and implement appropriate regulatory policies, practices and compliance, promote space activities in a fair and stable regulatory regime and build stakeholder confidence in space activities.

SANSA’s vision was to be a leading contributor to the perpetual advancement of societies through the benefits of space science and technology. Their mission included delivery of various space related services, support, guide and conduct R&D and grow our contribution to the space value chain. Its goals were to be world class, have efficient services and societal benefits, do cutting edge research, development, innovation, technology and applications, have a globally competitive space industry and make South Africa a globally recognised space citizen.

▪ Astronomy focus within SANSA. There was a limited but definable astronomy focus in SANSA including the South African Large Telescope (SALT), the Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT) and Square Kilometre Array (SKA) mega projects. However these projects had their own governance structures and should not take the focus away from other important areas of space science.

▪ International Astronautical Congress
This world premier meeting of the space industry and professionals would be hosted by South Africa on 3-7 October in Cape Town. This would be a first for the African continent. The Department of Science and Technology had a clear and defined role in this as a platinum sponsor, showcasing the SKA and organisation of Group on Earth Observations (GEO) - related sessions. This would have immense benefits for South Africa. (For more detail on these topics, see document).

Ms M Shinn (DA) asked why, with South Africa’s huge developmental issues, they would need to invest in a space industry. Was it necessary to build and launch their own space vehicles when they could buy the images from abroad. She asked if they really did need two space agencies. She expressed concerns with the growth of bureaucracy. She also wanted to know how many people the agencies employed. Finally, what would the space industry contribute to the economy?

Mr Munsami answered that a good reason for South Africa to have its own satellites was that they currently had to pay a large amount to get access to satellite imagery, and that was capital flowing out of the country. If they retained that, they could build up the industrial capability in the country. There were certain restrictions when you licensed the use of foreign satellites. It was first of all very difficult and very expensive to get high resolution imagery. Large scale resolution images could be obtained free of charge from China, Brazil or the US. However, when you need smaller resolution, for say, special planning or military application, the problem of access and high costs emerged. Another issue was autonomy, when you used foreign satellites you could risk having to wait up to two or three weeks to get it to point where you wanted it, while if you owned your own satellite it could happen immediately. In situations such as disasters were time was of the essence, this suddenly became important. South Africa did have the capability to build high resolution satellites. They were also looking to develop a cost effective satellite system consisting of micro and nano satellites, not a large one such as America possessed.

As for launch capabilities, he said South Africa did have these capabilities, a holdover from its nuclear programme. However this was a very cost intensive programme to reactivate, but South Africa still possessed the human capital to use it, even though the window of opportunity was closing fast. If they waited ten years they would risk having to start from scratch with the launch programme. However, it was not a given that they would develop it. There was a study of market and economic feasibility that would help determine this. He pointed out that given the possibility of future mining enterprises say on the moon or in the asteroid field, it would be crucial for South Africa to already have a launch capability at that time.

As for having two agency bodies, he admitted that it was a difficult question. What he could say was that one had to look at the time when the policy was formed, what was the policy drivers in 1993. It was a technology control and dual use technology regime. Space was looked at through the lens of non-proliferation. He hoped, and believed that this would however be addressed as they went forward. As for the satellite already launched, the SumbandilaSat was meant as a technology demonstration satellite, one to help them get back on the path of construction. It had been constructed ‘on the cheap’ mostly because it did not have a dual redundancy, meaning it did not have a backup for every system. There had been some breakdowns, but the satellite was fortunately still limping along. 

Mr A Alberts (FF+) asked on what other agencies the two South African ones were modelled, if any. He asked about the licence issuing process, what kind of licences had been issued, what types were there and could they elaborate a little on the launch licences.  He asked if there had been any research done on the viability of South Africa’s space future. Were there were opportunities in space, not only national and strategic, but monetary as well? Further he asked if there were any new treaties that would try to deal with the commercialisation of space, especially with the seeming uselessness of the Moon Treaty. He then asked how they would achieve the advancement of scientific engineering through development of human capital and support of industrial development. He asked what programmes they had running at the moment and what was envisaged. What would they do to support the needs of private industry as that would be where the real growth would be? Finally he would like to know where they could find out who the members of the two bodies were.

Mr Munsami replied that there were other agencies, such as NASA, who had regulatory bodies that regulated say satellite technology use. They had been told that what they were doing was very progressive. As for licences, only two satellite licences had been given and one launch licence. When it came to the economic space future, Mr Munsami said that for every one rand they had invested in the SumbandilaSat programme, there had been a six rand return. Many of the technologies on it were in current use on satellites in orbit, and much of the South African skill-set was second to none when it came to satellite construction. So there was an economic return on this. He could not however overemphasis the importance of a well functioning space infrastructure. It touched almost every aspect of our daily lives, from GPS, television, telecommunication, banking, time coding, healthcare information, even cellular phones. All came via space technology and satellites. Both the South African satellites that had been developed had been attached to post graduate programmes, and there had emerged a good number of Master and PhD students from them. Even now, they had a graduate cube-sat programme, part of a French-South African trade and innovation initiative, where a small cube satellite was built. They were growing a home base of scholarships for satellite development and human capital within space technology. DDG Munsami said that the private sector was being addressed; their programmes were developed in three different stages. Core goods and services were addressing the government’s needs, another was public goods and services such as tele-education and telemedicine addressing service delivery, and finally there were the commercial goods and services which provided for the private sector. They could provide a list of the members of the two bodies, they did not have this on them at this point.

Chief Director Nomfuneko Majaja referred to the Moon Treaty and the apparent lack of many signatories to it, most countries had not deemed it necessary to sign it, including South Africa. South Africa had only signed the Outer Space treaty, which was a broader treaty governing all activities in the space arena. South Africa was registered on the International Space Assets registry, which due to the dual use capacity of space technology, registered all assets of space technology in countries.

Mr Munsami added that the moon agreement had to be seen as similar to the Antarctic treaty. No country could claim sovereignty of the south polar continent; likewise, no country could claim ownership of celestial bodies like the moon.
Ms P Mocumi (ANC) asked what criteria would be used on issuing the licences they referred to. Could they explain what the risks to the bid of the SKA telescope were that they referred to.

Mr Munsami said that essentially what they meant with the risk to the SKA, was that they did not want to risk the bid by putting the SKA under the South African National Space Agency when the agency was in its early days. That was why they kept them separate for the moment until the agency found its feet. 

Chief Director Majaja noted that as for the criteria for licences, there were a number that had to be fulfilled. Satellites could not endanger people or property as well as the environment. It had to not add to the space debris field in orbit and the company launching it had to be financially secure to keep control of the vehicle once it was in orbit.  

Mr J Small (DA) asked what treaties South Africa was involved in and were others on the horizon. He asked if there would be some sort of incentives for private investment or the public sector, and what would they be if they did. He asked how much of the resources and technology put forward by these programmes went into other sectors of government, such as defence or communications. How many licences did they have and how many had been registered at this time and who did the actual registering?   

Mr Munsami replied that treaties were signed with other countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) and India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA). There had been a lot of work with Brazil in making a joint satellite. Unfortunately India had not joined them as he had hoped. This satellite would be looking at the Southern Atlantic Anomaly. The Anomaly was a weak spot in the earth’s magnetic field over the area of the Southern Atlantic and into Brazil; its outer edges stretched over Cape Town as well. This spot let through excessive radiation from the sun and irradiated any satellite that passes through causing them to be lost. So they were trying to understand this region. The magnetic field anomaly could be indicating that a polar shift was occurring; indeed the magnetic field of South Africa seemed to be changing. Unfortunately that could result in an increase in cancer and those kinds of cases, so they were trying to understand these environments. That was the IBSA framework.  

Chief Director Majaja said that South Africa had a niche within small satellite development. One reason to keep developing the space industry was that it had a huge spin-off into other industrial sectors. In this case, developing one industry could see a multiplying effect in other industries. There was already a range of incentives for private industries, such as the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative, this assisted both aeronautics and space industries. There were other programmes that helped make industry competitive on the international arena. There was assistance to manufacturing industries, including space industries. A programme was being finalised that would assist in upgrading all machinery and components to come up to the level of the international standard, and it would include a green component for energy saving.

Ms S van der Merwe (ANC) asked who the new players were and growth areas in space.

Mr Munsami said that as for the American and Russian space industry, it had been historically driven by technology supremacy to show off who was the better. This of course was a very expensive policy. The drivers of the developing countries were different. For South Africa, it was more of a community driven aspect were it benefited local communities in their area. Unfortunately it was not on South Africa’s horizon to go to Mars. For them, communication, positioning, navigation and earth observation was the better option. But it would not be playing catch up with what was already there. It would be more of an augmenting of existing technologies. They were talking to the Algerians among others to put a constellation of satellites in space above Africa. This would give them a higher ‘temporal’ resolution of images, meaning more images as well as better ones of the African continent. The Algerians wanted South Africa to build its satellite so that they could learn from the process and have a full technology and intellectual capital transfer. This was the sort of downstream benefits that came from these agreements as South Africa was recognised as a leader within the field.   

The Chairperson questioned the disjunction between the two bodies of the space programme, and the disjunction between the DST and the DTI. He asked why the DST was not the primary lead department for space related issues. He claimed passionately that issues of space exploration, science and astronomy were much more significant for the DST. A good example would be the matters of climate change, a complex issue that involved many areas covered by many departments, but the Department of Environmental Affairs would still be considered the lead in the area. 

Chief Director Nomfuneko Majaja explained that the two departments worked very well together. The presentation was meant to focus on the distinction between SANSA and SACSA. They would have to come back with a bigger delegation to address fully the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). She wanted to add a broader comment about the space agencies. The Department of Trade and Industry would provide policy guidelines for all stakeholders involved that had to be followed; all departments and bodies had to take their cue from these policies. As for the two-bodied space agency institutions, she wanted to make a comment. The Space Affairs Act was about 16 years old and would be reviewed and revised due to the changes that had occurred since that time. What used to be focused on was dual use technology. The focus was now on socio-economic benefits. She claimed that there was a risk that combining the two bodies would harm the space industry as SANSA would play the role of both referee and player. She questioned if it would be able to credibly police itself and act fairly towards the industry while it was itself involved. This needed to be looked - whether this would be a hindrance for the industry.

Mr Munsami added that the Department of Trade and Industry would take the lead on the IAC as it would have an industry focus to it.

The Chairperson agreed on the view of having the space bodies being a regulator and a stakeholder at the same time. He thanked the presenters for the discussion and the presentation. He reminded the members to start thinking about the upcoming Astronautical Congress. 

The meeting was adjourned.


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