South Africa’s multibillion rand space economy has the potential to help save the country’s struggling economy by fostering sustained socio-economic growth, while meeting many government priorities.
This was the key message echoed by the experts at a recent roundtable entitled: âMaximizing innovation and growth of the space economy for South Africaâ, organized by Brand South Africa, in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the Department of Science and Innovation.
As SA finds itself in a precarious economic situation, exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19, the country’s space economy is seen as a hotspot to strengthen avenues for economic reconstruction and recovery.
Panelists noted that promoting the use of space-related initiatives as a catalyst for development will help government, private sector and society not only from an innovation perspective, but also in terms of innovation. helping to unlock economic opportunities.
Dr Valanathan Munsami, CEO of SANSA, stressed that SA is well ahead of its African counterparts when it comes to progress in the space sector.
He noted that it is the only country on the continent that has the engineering capacity for the complete design and manufacture of satellite communication technologies, while most of the countries on the continent depend on the purchase of these products and services to foreign partners.
SA has the largest and most advanced ground segment of a spacecraft system on the African continent, with approximately 70 different antennas on the ground station, and is home to the only space weather center in Africa.
Founded in 2020, SANSA was established to promote the use of space and strengthen cooperation in space-related activities, while encouraging research and development in the fields of science and technology, aeronautics and in all aerospace sectors of the country.
SA increasingly relies on satellite infrastructure, using it for navigation, communications, data analysis and weather forecasting, among other functions.
Munsami said that SANSA and its ecosystem of partners have implemented a range of national government development priorities in three key areas: environment and resource management; health, safety and security; and innovation and economic growth.
âThere is a lot of positive momentum created around the overhaul of South Africa’s space economy. We are seeing a significant growth trajectory in terms of space economy project pipelines – two years ago we envisioned around 150 million Rand of revenue entering the system, currently we are sitting on a revenue stream. of about R 350 million.
âWe are trying to stimulate growth as strongly as possible, and if we move forward over the next two years, that revenue stream will be around R18 billion.
âOur mission as an agency is to provide leadership; it is not a question of implementing all the projects internally, but rather of reconfirming our commitment to stimulate the space ecosystem and to unleash this potential.
Dr Valanathan Munsami, CEO of the South African National Space Agency.
According to Munsami, the space economy consists of thematic programs segmented into four compartments: Earth observation, navigation, communication products and services, and space science and exploration.
He gave an overview of some of the projects SANSA and its partners are working on:
- SANSA acquires new space infrastructure worth approximately R 4.5 billion, to generate growth and stimulate the ecosystem.
- Build a telecommunications satellite which is part of the national telecommunications strategy, which will be approved by the government this year.
- Construction of a computer lab in partnership with the European Space Agency, to allow SA to design satellites in a month or two, as opposed to the traditional way which takes up to 12 months.
- SANSA is exploring different ways to host teleports – using thousands of satellites to provide internet connectivity to citizens from space.
- SANSA is working on a deep space network that will allow the agency to track all Luna and Mars missions, and will also support the global missions of foreign agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the European Space Agency. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
“In April 2020, SANSA introduced a new strategy, outlining a vision of integrating South Africa’s national space capacity, looking at it more from an ecosystem perspective and moving towards service delivery. for Africa, âcontinued Munsami.
âThe priority areas of SANSA’s strategy cut across the nine government policy instruments; Therefore, in order to meet government priorities, we actually need space, science and technology to fulfill its mandate.
Also speaking at the webinar, Fikiswa Majola, Deputy Director of Space Systems in the Department of Science and Innovation, highlighted that the local space ecosystem is poised to help SA unlock its potential for economic growth. and consolidate its footprint in the global space landscape.
As the ministry responsible for creating an enabling environment for science, technology and innovation research and development, the space sector remains a high priority, as part of its goal of achieving to a transformed, responsive and coherent national system, she noted.
âWe are looking for competitive sectors that will contribute to higher GDP growth in South Africa, and the space sector is certainly one of them. A report on the space economy by a global organization shows that there are high returns on investments in the space economy around the world. Considering the funding opportunities available in South Africa, you can imagine the growth this could bring to the economy.
âWe expect even more growth and return on investment. But we have to recognize that returns are not always in monetary form, but take many forms, including efficiency gains, cost savings, cost avoidance – and many of these fall under delivery areas. government services such as defense, transport, climate change monitoring, etc. âSaid Majola.
In addition to funding and supporting space-related infrastructure programs, ISD is reviewing various policies and guidelines to boost the sector, taking into account the capital-intensive nature of the space industry, but also being aware of the returns. high, she added. .