Space policy and regulation: South African Council for Space Affairs briefing

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Trade and Industry

17 September 2014
Chairperson: Dr B Goqwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Council for Space Affairs (SACSA) presented to the Portfolio Committees of Trade and Industry and Science and Technology on why space technology was important for South Africa, what the societal benefits were and the context for the importance of policy regulation.

The three main pillars of space technology were satellite communication, satellite aided position, timing, and navigation -- otherwise known as the global positioning system (GPS) -- and earth observation. Satellites, through these pillars, addressed services on the ground such as food security, water security, and urban management, and disaster management such as floods, fires and volcanoes and water-borne diseases. Other issues included nature conservation, land use change, drought and desertification, climate change, treaty compliance and exposing human rights and environmental violations.

Space revenue had grown to almost a $200 billion industry, and about 70% of this revenue was spent on the ground. South Africa’s BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) and IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) partners had more developed and complementary space capabilities, and these partnerships could be harnessed in a strategic alliance to enhance South Africa’s space capabilities. South Africa, in partnership with Algeria, Nigeria and Kenya, was pursuing a project called the African Resource Monitoring Constellation Programme, which aimed to develop a series of satellites to monitor the earth.

The space environment was completely different to any terrestrial environment and needed its own legal regime. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and SACSA were responsible for regulation, policy and oversight, and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) were responsible for the implementation of regulations. Other departments like Communications, Defence and Telecommunications also played various roles in the implementation of the regulations. Since the Space Affairs Act was passed in 1993, there had been many changes in the domestic and international arena. A review study of the policy had been concluded, and SACSA had established an ad hoc review committee to take the process forward in 2014.

The DST said capacity had been developed through various programmes. The Sumbandila Satellite Programme had graduated 18 masters’ students and three PhDs, and the programme employed eight interns. The Cube Satellite Programme had been done mainly for human capital development (HCD), and it had ignited South African’s presence in the cube satellite environment. The programme had given exposure to 127 students, of which 105 were black and 29 were female. The HCD initiatives would help to capacitate the Satellite Build Programme that would be launched in 2019.

The Committee focused on the respective roles played by the DST and DTI, and questioned how these roles were enforced. They asked what the envisaged amendments to the Space Affairs Act were and what the implications of over-crowdedness in space were. Members asked about the HCD initiatives entrenched in the space technology programmes, how the programmes and strategies supported the National Development Plan (NDP) and industrialisation in South Africa and the African Continent.

Mr D Maynier (DA), from the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, questioned the DST on the government’s intention to develop a satellite launch capability. He said if this was the intention, it would mean that it was government’s intention to develop a short to long-range missile capability. 

Meeting report

Opening remarks

The Chairperson read an apology from the Chairperson on the Portfolio Committee of Trade and Industry, Ms J Fubbs (ANC). He said space was a global issue and the regulation thereof was very important.

SA Council for Space Affairs: The role of policy and regulation

Dr Peter Martinez, Chairperson: South African Council for Space Affairs (SACSA), said the presentation would focus on why space technology was important for South Africa, what the societal benefits were, and would set the context for the importance of policy regulation. Most satellites were designed to provide services on the ground, and only a fraction of them were put in space to do scientific experiments. The three main pillars of space technology were satellite communication, satellite-aided position, timing, and navigation -- otherwise known as global positioning system (GPS) -- and earth observation.

Dr Martinez used a space tool to view a section of Cape Town from different altitudes, up to 100km, which was considered space. During the 1950s there had been only a few satellites sent up into space, mostly by America and the Soviet Union. By 2012 space had almost become congested with satellites, hence the need for regulation. These satellites addressed services on the ground such as food security, water security, urban management and disaster management such as floods, fires and volcanoes and water-borne diseases. Other issues included nature conservation, land use change, drought and desertification, climate change, treaty compliance and exposing human rights and environmental violations.

Dr Martinez gave a brief historical overview of South Africa’s space activities. The most recent space mission was a university-built satellite which showed that space activities were not just for governments, but more and more academic institutions were also getting involved. An overview of the global space industry showed that South Africa was not even featured in the list of countries, with their budgets and investments in space. The United States spent more money on space than the rest of the world combined, because of all the societal, commercial and security benefits derived from space technology. Space revenue had grown to almost a $200 billion industry, and about 70% of this revenue was spent on the ground. South Africa’s BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) and IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) partners had more developed and complementary space capabilities, and these partnerships could be harnessed in strategic alliances to enhance South Africa’s space capabilities. South Africa, in partnership with Algeria, Nigeria and Kenya, was pursuing a project called the African Resource Monitoring Constellation Programme, which aimed to build a series of satellites to monitor the earth.

SACSA’s objectives were to ensure the country’s compliance with international treaty obligations and produce normative frameworks for space governance. SACSA was also responsible for domestic regulation through the Space Affairs Act, for enabling cooperative governance, policy and a regulatory environment. The space environment was completely different to any terrestrial environment, and needed its own legal regime. Space law was required to ensure the safe, sustainable, stable, orderly and peaceful uses of outer space. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and SACSA were responsible for regulation, policy and oversight, and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) were responsible for the implementation of regulations. Other departments like Communications, Defence and Telecommunications also played variable roles within the implementation of the regulations.

The policy objectives underlined the main objective, which was to improve the coordination of Africa’s space arena and was guided by six principal guidelines. These guidelines included the use of outer space for peaceful purposes and to the benefit of human kind, to promote research and development in space science and technology, and to promote greater levels of self-sufficiency and international competitiveness in industry. SACSA was also involved in the training of the next generation of space lawyers and in the review of the Space Affairs Act. Since the Space Affairs Act was passed in 1993, there had been many changes in the domestic and international arena. The review study had been concluded, and SACSA had established an ad hoc review committee to take the process forward in 2014.

Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation, DST, said as the strategy had been implemented, capacity had been developed through various programmes. The Sumbandila Satellite Programme had graduated 18 masters’ students, three PhDs and the programme employed eight interns. Some of the students that had graduated had gained employment within SANSA, while others had been employed by other role players and DST. The Cube Satellite Programme had been done mainly for human capital development (HCD) and had ignited South Africa’s presence in the cube satellite environment. The programme had given exposure to 127 students, of which 105 were black and 29 were female. The HCD initiatives would help to capacitate the Satellite Build Programme that would be launched in 2019.

Discussion

Ms L Maseko (ANC) asked how far discussions had progressed in terms of what the specific responsibilities of the Departments of Science and Technology and Trade and Industry were on space affairs, because lobbying for more funding and resources for both departments was key. She asked if the satellites monitored eclipses, and if the internet troubles Standard Bank had been experiencing had anything to do with space technology. The fact that South Africa was only an emerging country when it came to space technology was probably based on South Africans’ understanding of service delivery. The local focus was primarily on housing, as opposed to matters of space. She asked if the development of space technology could help shed some light on phenomena like the Bermuda Triangle or the recent Malaysian aircraft that went missing. The DST understood the importance of HCD, especially including disadvantaged youth and women, and she asked what programmes were in place to include people with disabilities in these innovative programmes, as well as the mentoring and supervision of young and upcoming talent. She asked if there was a relationship with the Department of Defense (DOD), because the DOD recruited and trained quite a lot of young people in the engineering fields. She asked what was being done to make sure that those young people were being properly utilised.

Ms Nomfuneko Majaja, Chief Director: Advanced Manufacturing, DTI, said the DTI, through the Council for Space Affairs, offered an orderly implementation on space activities in the country, through regulation. The Council tried to ensure that South Africa was compliant with international treaties. The country was a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty, the Registration Treaty, the Liability Treaty and the Rescue Treaty. All these agreements resided within the Space Affairs Act, which was a regulatory function and therefore a space law function. In cases where a South African institution wanted to launch its satellite, the Council would issue the license. All other implementation-related matters were the responsibility of the DST, but other departments, like Communications, were also involved in some aspects of implementation. Internet issues and over-crowdedness were led by the Department of Communication through its various entities, like the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and Sentech. The DTI and DST had engaged on how the work would be done and how the responsibilities would be divided, and a protocol had been developed and signed by the two departments. This protocol stipulated exactly what DTI was monitoring, drafting and regulating, and what DST had to implement.

Mr Muofhe said capacity was needed to develop capacity, and the 127 students were what DST could capacitate. There was a proposal to expand the programme, which would involve international partners. The challenge was that South Africa had too few universities for the population and of the few universities, not many offered aerospace science as a discipline and other avenues were being explored. With the numbers South Africa currently had, a lot of productive work was being done. It was also important not to strain the capacity of the science sector, and the plan was to increase the numbers to get maximum value.

The Chairperson asked how the developments in space technology could be made available to the population, even those in the rural areas.

Mr Muofhe said there were various awareness programmes. In two weeks’ time, the launch of the ‘Week in Space’ programme would take place in the Eastern Cape, in Lusikisiki and surrounding areas. These programmes were both to raise awareness and to draw the interest of youth in those areas.

Mr M Kekana (ANC) said it had been reported that there would be a new African Space Agency, similar to the European Space Agency. If this was true, where would the headquarters be, how would it be resourced and who would own the big data? He emphasised the importance of including black disadvantaged youth in the programmes.

Dr Val Munsami, DST Chief Specialist: Astronomy, and SACSA councillor, said there had been a push from the West, because of donor funding to Africa, for Africa to develop its own space agency. The member countries had resisted, primarily because they did not want to set up an African space agency purely as a warehouse for Western technologies. The objective was to develop an African agenda and vision for the African Continent, and that was why the process had started to develop an African Space Policy and an African Space Strategy. Thereafter the governance structure would be looked at, but the preliminary idea was that it would be a centralised body, with distributed resource centres.

Adv A Alberts (FF+) referred to the policy objectives of developing a domestic space industry and developing and fostering a national space infrastructure. He asked what the exact plans were in this regard, considering the space industry was a growing global industry. What were the envisaged amendments to the Space Affairs Act?

SACSA Councillor, Adv Lulekwa Makapela, said the current Space Affairs Act was done enacted over 20 years ago and the focus was then more on the military use of space activities. It was important for South Africa as a country to be responsive to the current needs in the space arena, and national developments required more regulatory responses in the legislation. The international framework placed a number of obligations on South Africa as a country and the Council needed to ensure compliance with those requirements. Currently the state was liable if a South African satellite caused any damage, whether it was a government or private institution satellite. Through regulations, policy makers could determine who would be able to launch satellites, as well as determine the conditions for such a launch. The Liability and Registration Convention, which had not been included in previous legislation, had been ratified recently. Clashing roles had been identified and even the United Nations (UN) had not foreseen that space would get so congested. The policy would also regulate the space in which South African satellites or objects resided. Previously, only governments launched satellites, but currently private institutions and universities had also started to launch satellites.

Adv Phetole Sekhula, SACSA Councillor, said space tourism was an exciting possibility and one of the biggest investors in South Africa, Sir Richard Branson, was developing a space port in America, and a space plane that would be taking tourists to space at $200 000 per person. Tourism was one of the country’s biggest drawcards, and if a space aspect could be added with a fully developed policy, it was another avenue that could be developed.

A big debating point in international circles was where space actually began. There was an aviation aspect, because Branson’s planes were space planes, not an outer space object, as defined in the international legal regime for outer space, nor were they aircraft that could be regulated by aviation laws. There was a need for an intervention, and these were the kind of questions that needed to be interacted with the Committee as policy makers to come up with a comprehensive framework that covered regulation, aviation and outer space.

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) asked what ‘internet overload’ meant, and whether the iCloud was stored in a satellite and if that satellite was owned by Apple. He asked if unlimited traffic could be handled in space and, if not, what the challenges would be.

Dr Martinez said he did not believe iCloud was stored in a satellite, but it could be possible that satellites were part of the relay mechanism to move data from servers to the end user, depending on the respective location.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) referred to the Houwteq facility in Grabouw and the agreements of cooperation between DST and DTI. The Houwteq facility was under the Department of Telecommunications, and she asked how this was being dealt with. She also asked what exactly was being done at the facility, how it fitted into the whole space programme and what the current status of the facility was.

Mr Muofhe said the Houwteq facility was currently under the Department of Public Enterprises, and there were negotiations underway to have the facility transferred to the DST. The DST had been working on a space programme and for the programme to be launched by 2019, facilities needed to be upgraded. The facility was used for assembly, integration and testing.

Mr T Msimang (IFP) said the images of space showed that it was more and more crowded, and he asked if there was a possibility of over-crowdedness. He also asked about the ownership of the satellites, and how the space was being regulated between nations and continents.

Adv Sekhula said space was an international activity and as far back as the 1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union had produced a legal framework for international space activities. Ownership really depended on the person, country or agency that contracted, launched and operated the satellite. Ownership could be claimed by registering the satellite, and it was prescribed by the different space treaties, which defined various aspects of space activities. There were only so many orbital slots where a satellite could reside, and those orbital slots were becoming saturated. It was a concern for developing countries and it called for an international legal regime which would look at the overall basis for space activities. There was a need for extreme coordination between a whole lot of government departments, and it was important that South Africa’s needs were correctly reflected in the international forum.

Mr D Maynier (DA) said he believed the DST accessed, distributed and stored thousands of archived data every year from various service providers. He asked if DST accessed, distributed and stored archived data from any state or private sector service provider in Russia and if so, what the name of the service provider was. He asked if DST entered into any contract, subcontract or discussion with any Russian company called NPO Mashinostroyenia. In terms of the space policy objectives, he asked if it was the intention of government to develop a satellite launch capability, and if this had anything to do with the modernisation and refurbishment of the Houwteq facility. If it was the intention of government to develop a satellite launch capability, it would mean that it was government’s intention to develop a short to long-range missile capability. He asked if the Council, or either of the departments, had ever received a briefing, a document, had a discussion or had any personal knowledge of a project called ‘Project Flute,’ or alternatively ‘Project Consolidated Flute’.

Dr Munsami said if the policy was studied carefully, there was no specific reference to launch capabilities, but the door had been kept open for policy principles around access to space. It gave an opportunity to assess whether it was a viable option or not. It was a very capital intensive business, and the revenue generated was only 3% of the global space value chain. The capital nature of investing in that sector was very expensive. It was important when building the value chain, that access to space was ensured. Some due diligence studies had been done on investing in launch capabilities, but the Executive had not applied their minds as yet on whether it was a viable option or not.

‘Project Flute’ was mainly a project of the DOD, and given the military nature of the project, the DST did not have insight into what had happened between the DOD and the Russians. An agreement had been signed by SANSA and Roscosmos to access archived Russian satellite data, but it had not been executed yet. There was no Russian data currently in DST’s archives.

Mr Muofhe said because of the cost, very few space players had been able to develop launch capabilities.

Mr Maynier said Dr Munsami had chosen his words carefully by saying these projects were ‘mainly’ in the DoD. He asked if there was any aspect of the project that resided within the DST, especially if DST had entered into any discussions or contracts with NPO Mashinostroyenia.

Dr Munsami said Sunspace had investigated whether they could get a percentage share of the work for Project Flute when the DOD was in discussions with the Russians. It had not worked out, because the Russians did not want to work with a foreign entity, which was related mainly to Intellectual Property (IP) concerns. From the DST’s side, that was the extent of the discussions, and Sunspace had then been absorbed into Denel Houwteq, and was now known as Spaceteq.

Mr B Mkongi (ANC) said the South African government had since 1994 moved from the military industrial complex in the usage of space, and space was now used as a developmental sphere to make sure the developmental policy of the government was implemented. The National Development Plan (NDP) was an overarching policy, and he asked what strategies were in place to support it. There were anchoring policies under the NDP which spoke to industrialisation and beneficiation. He asked how space could be used to catalyse industrialisation and also support industrialisation in Africa. If a space agency was being developed in Africa, its priorities should be in line with the priorities of the African Union (AU). The policy had been crafted by the DTI, but implemented by the DST. He asked what the policy constraints were, especially on the articulation of the implementation of the policy. What was proposed to deal with those constraints on the way forward? What role could the BRICS bank play in accessing space and opening up opportunities for research and development?

Ms Majaja said the two departments were working on a space industry framework. This would involve a strategy that would include issues of localisation and industrialisation and at the same time, interventions that would support the industry. Within the space industry framework, it had been identified that the space industry, together with the DOD, contributed strongly to the economic growth of the country, and there were overlapping technologies that spilled over into other departments. If one person was employed within the space or aerospace industry, six or seven other employees were linked to that one job through other logistical services, and it created an economic multiplier effect. The DTI had a number of industrial intervention mechanisms which were open to all industrial participants, like the automotive, aerospace, clothing and textile industries. Recently, the DTI had opened the door within the Manufacturing Competitiveness Enhancement Programme for the aerospace and defence industries to participate within the huge incentive programme for companies to get financial assistance.

Dr Munsami said a lot of development happened within the space industry, where industrial development was led by research. The protocol signed between the Ministers of the DST and DTI clearly outlined how the two departments would work together, and the DST and SANSA were represented on SACSA to ensure proper interfacing.

Mr Muofhe said there had been a lot of discussion following the launch of Operation Phakisa, which looked at the contribution to the economy of the oceans, oil, gas and transport. Operation Phakisa could not enable what the economy should achieve without space science. The Norwegian coastline was much smaller than South Africa’s coastline, but the contribution to their economy was huge, because of how space science was used.

Dr Martinez said the BRICS partners had more developed space capabilities than South Africa, and it was a big opportunity to leverage those partnerships. It would allow South Africa to increase its space capabilities in areas such as Human Capital Development (HCD), access to space and access to space data and services.

Mr C Mathale (ANC) referred to the role satellites played in communication. South African networks were problematic, especially in tunnels and elevators. In other countries, there were not these network interruptions. An accumulation of traffic in space showed the area was becoming congested and he asked how space accidents, like crashes, were being dealt with. It was an exciting presentation and it was also exciting that possibilities were being explored as a country, and as a continent.

Dr Martinez said space debris was the biggest headache of space operators at the moment. If another satellite had maneuvering capability, there could be an exchange of information and it could be decided who should move out of the way. If it was an inert piece of space junk which could not move out of the way, it could do serious damage to a satellite delivering commercially important services. These collision avoidance maneuvers were actually economically significant to space operators. A few years ago, two satellites did in fact collide and this had produced a huge amount of space debris, which in turn had affected other satellites. Space was actually now seen as a limited natural resource and because of global participation, no single country had the right to make unilateral decisions on space activities. Countries like South Africa could play a leading role on the African continent and those in charge of discussions and negotiations should be capacitated to represent the country and the continent.

Mr D Macpherson (DA) asked about the use of space technology in combating crime, rhino poaching and the sale and trafficking of illicit drugs. He asked what plans were in place with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) to use these capabilities to monitor the rhino population and the movement of poachers, especially across the Mozambican border. He asked if any cooperation agreements existed with the SAPS to use space technology to track criminals and criminal activities, or agreements with customs to track the trafficking of illicit drugs. He asked what the relationship was between the DTI/DST and Sentech, especially around satellite internet access.

Mr Muofhe said the long term goal of being self-sufficient in space included combating crime and using space technology as a way to protect South Africa’s resources. It was sensitive information to give at this stage, but the objective for space technology to be used much more in the combating of crime than it currently was.

The Chairperson said investments, both financial and human capacity, would need to be explored. Because South Africa had such a huge marginalised and disadvantaged population, regulations would need to be implemented that did not further marginalise them.

The Chairperson thanked the DTI, DST and SACSA for their input, and said the information was important to the Committee for policy development and lobbying for funding.

The meeting was adjourned.

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