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South Africa’s first United Nations small satellite symposium draws to a close

15 December 2017. South Africa’s first United Nations symposium on small satellite technology attended by some 140 delegates from 33 countries drew to a close this week on the campus of Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.

Rei Kawashima (UNISEC-Global), Francois Denner (SCS Aerospace Group), Pontsho Maruping (South African Council of Space Affairs), Herman Steyn (Stellenbosch University), Sias Mostert (SCS Aerospace Group)

This first-ever focus on Africa’s satellite industry held over 5 days was hailed by one and all as a great success not only in providing a forum for exchanging ideas between the continent’s leading satellite manufacturers but also to engage with international industry leaders.

The symposium titled ‘Small satellite missions for scientific and technologic advancement’ was sponsored by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, the South African Departments of Science and Technology (DST) and Trade and Industry (the dti), the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

It was fittingly hosted by Stellenbosch University where the development of South Africa and Africa’s first home-grown satellite Sunsat was started in 1992 and launched in 1999 with the assistance of NASA. Equally fitting was the fact that Prof Herman Steyn, head of the university’s Satellite Engineering Research Group, and co-ordinator of this symposium also worked on the Sunsat project as a young engineer 25 years ago.

“We were especially pleased to have delegates from all the Africa countries who developed their own satellites to date. Africa now boasts 8 spacefaring nations which are Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia, Kenya, Ghana and of course South Africa,” says Prof. Steyn.

Ms Pontsho Maruping, chairperson of the South African Council of Space Affairs (SACSA) was equally delighted with the outcome of the event: “It is the first time an event of this nature took place on our continent. We appreciate the regional focus on Africa’s space industry. It gave Africa’s small sat space community a platform to collaborate and exchange ideas,” she said. SACSA operates under the Minister of Trade and Industry, exercises regulatory functions in the South African space industry including giving the Minister advice on all space-related matters.

In his wrap-up at the symposium of South Africa’s first 25 years in space, Dr. Sias Mostert, also a member of the original Sunsat team and nowadays Executive Chairman of the SCS Aerospace Group (SCSAG), pointed out that South Africa now has the ability to manufacture up to 80% of small satellite components locally. This was proven by SCSAG’s successfully operating nSight1 satellite recently launched from the International Space Station with 28 other satellites in the QB50 project co-ordinated by the European Space Agency.

Prof Steyn is confident that the symposium will lead to bigger co-operation between the African countries and also expressed the hope that it paves the way for a co-ordinated space program in South Africa ultimately driven by champions at the highest government levels.

This report was compiled by freelance journalist Anthony Penderis.