The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) formalised their relationship by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the fringes of the recent Brics Summit in Johannesburg. (Brics is the alignment between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.)
“This partnership will bring immense opportunities for our citizens and stakeholders in areas of research and economic development as we develop and share space knowledge and technology with our ISRO partners,” highlighted Sansa CEO Dr Val Munsami. He was speaking at the signing ceremony.
The MoU covers cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. Through the MoU, Sansa hopes to benefit from the experiences and knowledge of its much larger Indian counterpart (Isro, for example, launched its first interplanetary probe, Chandrayaan-1, to the moon in 2008; it operated for ten months). The MoU thus provides for the two agencies to engage in mutually beneficial joint projects and joint research. Areas covered include applications for space technologies, earth remote sensing, satellite navigation and communication, space infrastructure, and space science and planetary exploration.
The two agencies already have a history of working together. A significant example is ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan. In orbit around Mars since late 2014, it received launch support from Sansa after it lifted off in late 2013.
“Sansa aims to leverage the benefits of space science and technology for socioeconomic development, environmental conservation and natural resource management,” stated the agency in its press release. “The consolidation of South Africa’s primary space entities under one banner has brought together a significant range of competences in satellite applications, satellite engineering and research in space science and technology to play an important role in the country’s future space initiatives. The space agency is also committed to delivering quality services to the international space sector and growing its earth observation data management capability.”
Sansa, which was launched near the end of 2010, is composed of a head office and four directorates – Sansa Earth Observation, Sansa Space Operations, Sansa Space Science and Sansa Space Engineering. Earth Observation collects, assimilates, interprets and disseminates data from earth observation satellites (from various countries) to the South African government and academic, research and business entities to support policy- and decision-making, economic growth and sustainable development. Space Operations provides satellite tracking, telemetry and command services, launch support services, in-orbit testing, mission control and space navigation services, mainly for the world’s leading space agencies and space enterprises. Space Science is focused on the near-earth space environment, including space weather (it has the only space weather centre in Africa) and the earth’s magnetic field, as well as promoting interest in science, engineering and technology among both young people and their teachers. Space Engineering is concerned with leading the national development and integration of satellite systems and subsystems.
ISRO was created in 1969. The first satellite designed and built by ISRO was launched (by the then Soviet Union) in 1975. Today, it is one of the six largest space agencies in the world, and has designed, developed, owns and operates its own fleets of communications and earth observation satellites. It has also designed, developed and operates scientific satellites, experimental satellites, small satellites and interplanetary probes.
The first launch of an ISRO satellite on an ISRO rocket (the Satellite Launch Vehicle, or SLV) took place in 1980. The SLV (which made only four operational launches, of which only two were fully successful) led to the development of two successful launch rockets: the Polar (orbit) SLV and then the larger Geosynchronous (orbit) SLV.