Space Technology in South Africa & Sumbandilasat Launch: Sunspace briefing

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


29 May 2007

Mr E Ngcobo (ANC) & Ms L Mabe (ANC) [Joint Budget]

Documents handed out:
Space technology in South Africa and the launch of Sumbandila satellite Presentation

The Committee was briefed by SunSpace on space technology in South Africa and its progress in launching the Sumbandila satellite. The relevance of space technology in South Africa addressed areas of concern such as shortage of technical skills, job creation and loss of top researchers and engineers, by contributing towards attracting and retaining high quality scientists and engineers and stimulating research and development.The satellite was described, and it was noted that its
applications included vessel positioning identification and aids to agricultural infrastructure management and planning. Its imaging expectations were a resolution GSD of 6.25m, size of 5.8 x 4.2 km and the full image was  45 x 45Km.

It was noted that intervention by Cabinet would be required  to aid in reaching the ASGISA targets to increase the GDP by 6% and halve unemployment and poverty by 2014. This would be by  establishment of South African Space Agency (SASA), developing a space programme, and support for local industry and in job creation. SunSpace still awaited the decision of the sendout date to Russia for the launching of Sumbandila satellite to be set by the Department of Science and Technology.

Members asked questions on the training and retention of scientists after the completion of this project, how SunSpace planned to be financially viable for long term purposes, the gender ratios in senior management, what precisely they needed from Cabinet, the percentage of imported goods in the satellites, their competitive advantage in the international arena, collaboration and discussions with National Treasury, compliance with international obligations, a breakdown of the funding received from the Department, and collaboration with the International Space Agency. It was noted that it still awaited a response from the Department of Defence.

The Adoption of the Report on Department of Science and Technology and its entities on its Business Strategies for 2007/2008(Budget and strategic plans) was postponed. The adoption of minutes from 13 February to15 May was also postponed.

Space technology in South Africa and the launch of Sumbandila satellite:Briefing by SunSpace / Mihle (SunSpace)

Ms G Magagula, Space Engineer–in-training, SunSpace/Mihle, addressed the Committee on the role she and other engineers-in-training (EIT) played on this project. She stressed the importance of space science in South Africa and said how South Africa could play a vital role in Africa and the international arena. She expounded on how getting trainees for space science could address shortage of skills and also improve the economy of the country.

Mr Mzukisi Mazula, Executive Manager, SunSpace/Mihle, addressed the relevance of space technology and its application in South Africa. He noted areas of concern and challenge, such as shortage of technical skills, and the loss of top scientists and engineers to the developed world. To lessen these losses, the improvement of space technology would attract high quality engineers and scientists, and also encourage young people to the science and maths disciplines and stimulate research and development. He further stated that the promotion of space technology would be in line with the 2007 State of the Nation Address, as it would improve the export performance, and focus on services and manufactured goods.. It would further increase human capital development, and gain access to independent decision making information which allowed increasing the economic return of traditional economic sectors. This could be achieved by the turnkey satellite system or through South African efforts of building and developing a satellite. It would allow for International diplomacy and collaboration for the benefit of South Africa and other countries, for example in alerting the other country of impending disaster.

Some of Sumbandila Satellite’s applications would be in vessel positioning identification and in agricultural infrastructure management and planning. Its imaging expectations were a resolution of 6.25m, size of 5.8  x 4..2 Km and the full image was 45 x 45Km.Space activities such as satellite engineering in Africa were presently limited to Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria. The satellites were bought from overseas as opposed to being manufactured locally.

Mr Siyabonga Copiso, Executive Manager, SunSpace/Mihle,  addressed the human development strategies aligned with the Joint Initiative For Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) report of 2007. He outlined SunSpace‘s initiative to increase human capital such as the internship programme,  through the support of Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Communications (DOC) and the defence force and intelligence agencies. Mr Copisa also stated that SunSpace's goal was aligned with the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiatives (ASGISA) targets to increase the GDP by 6%, and halve unemployment and poverty, by 2014.He said the intervention required from Cabinet would be in the establishment of South African Space Agency (SASA), developing a space programme supportive of local industry and in job creation..

Mr E Ngcobo (ANC) expressed his concern on the sincerity of the company in addressing the skills shortage issue and being BEE compliant. He cautioned that other companies in the past had proffered similar plans and strategies for the betterment of the people and the country, and the State had been misled.

Mr Copisa replied that the veracity of the company would only be proved over time, as they were still a young company. He also suggested that Members join some of the company's meetings to witness their dedication and to observe how they put down and implemented their strategies.

Mr P Nefolovhodwe (APO) wondered how SunSpace dealt with issues of gender equality in their management levels.

Mr Copisa replied that currently the gender breakdown in the company was not balanced. However they had put in motion a 10 year strategy plan that include recruiting student  EITs and retaining them for permanent employment.

Mr Nefolovhodwe asked SunSpace to articulate what they needed from Cabinet in order to make the company viable in the long run.

A SunSpace delegate replied that they would like to have stable investment from National Treasury into space programmes. In addition the establishment of the South African Space Agency would be a major factor, developing a space programme support for local industry, and creating jobs.

A Member commented that most of the goods manufactured in South Africa had a substantial proportion of imported components. He requested SunSpace to give, in percentile form, the end value of the satellites made from imported goods.

Mr Mazula replied that the imported components were the batteries from UK, solar panels from Italy and the propulsion. These components contributed 15 to 20% of the satellite’s expenses.

Mr Y Wang (ANC) requested Mihle/SunSpace to explain their competitive advantage in the international arena.

Mr Ron Olivier, Executive Manager, SunSpace, replied that they operated at the lower end of the market. The venture had a cost advantage in that it was not a “deep space mission”.They had a need for small investments but offered independent information.

Mr Wang commented that it was exciting to see female engineers in any school. However, in regard to”brain drain”, he found that most of the young engineers went overseas and in about five years or so returned to the country. He then asked what long term strategies had SunSpace put in place for the engineers to serve within South African domestic markets.

Ms D Robinson (DA) asked whether there was a stratagem in place to retain people once they were trained.

Mr Copisa reiterated the plans of SunSpace to recruit University students and train them. After their training period SunSpace would offer them employment, and this way could retain their scientists and engineers.

Mr Wang wondered whether there existed any collaboration between SunSpace and the National Treasury.

Mr Olivier replied that there was no collaboration with Treasury at the moment, but SunSpace would like to look into it in the future.

Prof I Mohamed (ANC) requested clarification concerning the physical problems encountered within the nature of Space time.

Mr Mazula responded that SunSpace had to abide by the international space law and regulations, and to be in compliance with the international UN Treaties ITU and UNCOPUOUS for frequencies and orbital slots, for non proliferation of space. Also, they had to abide by the South African Council for Space Affairs, and the Space Affairs Act 64 of 1995.

A Member wondered where the engineers working at SunSpace would be deployed after the completion of the satellite.

Ms Magagula replied that these members, prior to being trainee space engineers, were trained as electronic engineers so they could get employment with any electronic company.

A Member requested a breakdown of the funds received from the DST and how much SunSpace raised on its own.

Mr B Cilliers, Managing Director, SunSpace, replied that they had not brought the actual breakdown with them but that this could be sent on to the Committee.

Mr S Dithebe (ANC) wondered whether there was collaboration with the International Space Agency (ISA) as an outcome of this venture. He also asked what their long term plans were regarding space exploration.

Mr Cilliers responded that there was collaboration with ISA. As for the long term plans, SunSpace was rather moving one step at a time. They did, however want to reach a state where they could compete with the developed countries in terms of the quality of their equipment and research.

A Member advised SunSpace to utilise the constituency offices for access in rural areas. She also wondered whether the Department of Defence had responded to SunSpace’s request. She further enquired how much the Department’s involvement would cost the State.

A SunSpace delegate replied that they had not received an answer from the Department of Defence. They had not worked exactly how much they would need from the State, but would be contacting National Treasury with the quotation.

Committee Report on Department’s Budget and Strategic Plan 2007/8
The adoption of the report was postponed.

Adoption of minutes
The adoption of the Committee’s Minutes of its meetings on 13, 20 and 27 February, 6, 13 and 27 March and 15 May was postponed to the next Committee meeting.

The meeting was adjourned..


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