The development of South Africa's space sector and, within that, the space industry, has been hampered by financial constraints. So highlighted South African National Space Agency (Sansa) CEO Dr Val Munsami in his address to the Sansa Space for National Development Conference on Monday.
"We've had limited investments in space, which have not been enough to drive it forward," he affirmed. "We thought that we had some capabilities in the country to capture a share of the global market in small and micro-satellites. This has not happened as we hoped."
The lack of investment has meant that the local space industry has been in "survival mode", which has ensured that it has been fragmented, which is a problem. This had to change. "We need to ensure this change happens now," he stressed. "Not in a few years. Now."
There were good reasons for urgency in this regard. "Many opportunities are opening up. South Africa is assuming leadership positions in multilateral [space] fora." These included within Africa, the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) group and global bodies (including the Group on Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS, and at the United Nations).
Within Africa, Sansa has started to talk with its counterparts elsewhere on the continent to create a Committee of African Space Institutions (CASI). The response has been highly favourable.
It is hoped that the CASI will be "signed-off" in June. It would be able to oversee already agreed and future programmes, such as the African Resources Management satellite constellation, the Africa GEOSS, and the establishment of shared and/or co-located space ground infrastructure across the continent.
Munsami stressed that, regarding the country's space endeavours, Sansa could not do everything on its own. Local industry will have to do a lot. There were a lot of opportunities and there was a lot of international interest in working with South Africa in space.