Building partnerships that benefit the country and the African continent were top of the agenda at the first “Space meets Industry” Business Breakfast hosted by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) at the CSIR Convention Center on Wednesday.
Over 80 delegates attended the event including various industry leaders, local scientists, government officials and decision makers from National Treasury, Department of Defense, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and South African Airways (SAA).
The event kicked off with SANSA CEO, Dr Sandile Malinga highlighting SANSA’s role in addressing South Africa’s grand challenges, encouraging R&D, developing human capacity, ensuring transformation and enhancing industrial competitiveness.
Panel discussions led by SANSA Earth Observation MD, Dr Jane Olwoch and SANSA Space Science MD, Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell focused on and how public-private partnerships can assist in addressing societal challenges.
“SANSA aims to bring together various industry and government decision makers under one roof for a dialogue that will stimulate innovative solutions and continue to place South Africa at the cutting edge of global space science and technology,” said Olwoch. She said the agency has the products and technology to deal with “everyday” challenges but wanted input from industry on how they could work together to, for example, use information from satellites to address poverty and unemployment.
The panellists also included Adri de la Rey, Eskom Programme Manager: Distribution Automated Mapping and Facilities Management, Lawrence Modise, Executive Manager of the Statistical Geography at Statistics South Africa and Francois Coetzee, ATNS Senior Manager: Aeronautical Information.
Echoing the call for partnering with industry, McKinnell said she hopes that a dialogue would enable industry to obtain a “more holistic picture of the value of space science and technology”, and emphasised the need for scarce skills development and the importance of building the next generation of leaders for the space sector.
During a question-and-answer session, Konrad Wessels of the CSIR said industry’s request was for SANSA to create opportunities for growth and development at a national and international level. While Dr Sias Mostert from Space Commercial Services said “the space industry is excited about the existence of a South African National Space Agency as a mechanism to coordinate and drive space investment and innovation for the South African space sector.” He also highlighted the role the agency plays in strengthening the space value chain and South Africa’s economy.
Industry highlighted that there should be greater visibility of SANSA’s significant contribution to the safety and security of the nation through its work with the Aerospace, Maritime & Defence Industries in providing vital services for communication and navigation systems.
Big data and the rise of smart machines were also key factors. “As a continent, Africa is lagging behind but we have an advantage, the world is aging, while Africa is youthful and innovative. If at any time in history that Africa can lift off, it is now when the population is eager to embrace technology,” he said.
Malinga concluded by saying that SANSA was committed to heed feedback from industry and address issues such as clarifying the value chain the space agency plays in and how to unpack the role between public-private enterprises.
SANSA was officially opened by the Department of Science and Technology in December 2010. At the same time, the National Space Strategy was launched, which aims to promote the peaceful use of space, and research in space science, and communications, and navigation, and promote international space cooperation. SANSA is focusing on six core areas – space-based observation, space science, human capital development, science advancement and public engagement and space engineering, as well as space operations (mission control, telemetry, tracking and control and launch support).
The establishment of SANSA and the focus on satellite manufacture is part of government’s Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), which is focusing on key areas to boost South Africa’s financial and industrial capacity.
As South Africa’s contribution to the African Resource Management Constellation (ARMC), state-owned company Spaceteq is developing the EO-Sat-1 high resolution multispectral imaging satellite, which will be used for urban planning and development, safety and security, disaster management and food security. It will measure crop yield, population density, field sizes and land use. SANSA has allocated nearly R300 million over three years to Spaceteq to develop the satellite.