South African National Space Agency CEO Sandile Malinga. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
South African National Space Agency CEO Sandile Malinga. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

"WE want to develop a satellite that meets the needs of South Africans," South African National Space Agency (Sansa) CEO Sandile Malinga said on Thursday at the last workshop on user requirements for South Africa’s new ZA-ARMC1 satellite.

The new satellite will mean that South Africa will not have to rely on resource data from European satellites.

The main criticism of the country’s space plans is that a developing country — and in fact a continent — with widespread poverty and high unemployment should focus on basic service delivery and poverty alleviation.

"South Africa does not have the luxury to embark on a satellite (build) that does not address users’ needs," he said.

ZA-ARMC1, which would now enter a five-year development phase, was South Africa’s offering to the African Resource Management Constellation (ARMC), Sansa space programme developer Francois Denner said on Thursday.

The ARMC agreement, signed in 2009 between South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Kenya, "binds South Africa to build at least one of the three low-Earth-orbiting satellite in the constellation", said Imraan Saloojee, director of Earth observation at the Department of Science and Technology.

"It will allow a degree of self-sufficiency within the African context because of the access to data," he added.

The cost of ZA-ARMC1, including ground stations and other infrastructure, would be R450m — R100m of which the Treasury had already made available, Mr Saloojee said, adding that "there are processes in Treasury and the (department) for more money to be made available".

The payload and sensors on the satellite had been determined by user needs, said Paida Mangara, Sansa Earth observation manager for research and applications development.

These include agriculture, climate, environment, farm settlements, housing, urban and regional planning, disaster monitoring and prediction, land use and land cover mapping, land and water management, oil and gas pipeline monitoring, safety and security and health.

Mr Malinga also highlighted the importance of satellite development in bolstering South Africa’s high-technology manufacturing sector and reducing the number of high-technology imports and the country’s trade deficit.

Mr Denner said Sansa was focusing on industry engagement because ZA-ARMC1 would be "locally developed and manufactured".

However, Mr Malinga was unable to offer further information on the future of SunSpace, the South African micro-satellite manufacturer.

In October, the Cabinet decided to absorb the company into Sansa. Two years earlier, the government had said it would buy an equity stake in the company.

"We are still in discussions about how SunSpace would be absorbed into Sansa," Mr Malinga said.