The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) is on the verge of mounting a large expansion of its cooperative efforts with other African countries, and potentially with the European Space Agency (ESA) as well, according to the SANSA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Val Munsami in an interview with Engineering News Online published on 12 March 2018.
Munsami also spoke about the importance of completing the EOSat-1 Earth observation satellite to support SANSA’s cooperative efforts in order to reassure existing and potential partners that South Africa is a serious player in space.
Among the more significant diplomatic discussions underway between SANSA and prospective partners, according to Munsami, is that with ESA.
“…we are in conversations with the European Space Agency about deepening our cooperation…There is a good chance that South African experiments could, within the next few years, be mounted on interplanetary space probes from major space agencies,” Munsami said.
“Some discussions are already taking place. Such a development would stimulate science locally and make space more attractive for South Africans, as well as making South Africa an even more attractive partner in space projects,” he added.
SANSA is also forging close space cooperation ties with other African countries, with existing Memoranda of Understandings (MoU’s) with Gabon, Nigeria, and Algeria (currently being reviewed for renewal), and an agreement currently being negotiated with Egypt.
This is where it is important for South Africa to complete the EOSat-1 programme, according to Munsami. Algeria, Egypt, and Nigeria already have Earth observation satellites in operation, and in order to be regarded as a reliable partner as well as a major African spacepower it is essential that EOSat-1 be adequately funded and put into orbit.
“EOSat-1 is progressing,” said Munsami. “The preliminary design review for EOSat-1 will be completed this month. The rest of this year will be devoted to the critical design review. Thereafter, the focus will be on the development of the engineering and flight model.”
“But the funding challenges for EOSat-1 have not disappeared,” cautioned Munsame, indicating that he and other senior SANSA officials are lobbying South Africa’s National Treasury for funds and sustained support.
“Countries are looking to collaborate with South Africa with regard to developing satellites. It is essential that EOSat-1 be finished and launched. If not, there will be reputational risk for the country. Also, we would not be meeting the needs of our local users, for whom we are building the satellite,” he added.
EOSat-1 was originally supposed to be launched in 2019, but is not expected to be ready – contingent on adequate funding – until either 2020 or 2021.