SA firm aims for space

2010-10-11 08:53
A model of a Marcom space vehicle is displayed at the Observatory in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

A model of a Marcom space vehicle is displayed at the Observatory in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - While South Africans gaze at the stars, at least one company believes that we can reach them, and has a plan to launch SA into space by 2015.

"We have to get involved in space. Once you have the technology, you can sell the technology - obviously to the right people," Marcom managing director Mark Comninos told News24 at the South African Space Association's first annual conference in Cape Town.

The conference, held during International Space Week, seeks to bring together astronomy and space professionals to collaborate, said organiser Carla Sharpe.

Comninos is convinced that SA has the potential to develop commercial space flight and believes that the success of satellite projects like SumbandilaSat illustrates that SA can create a space industry.

"We've calculated about R5m for the development engine and about R250m to get to space by 2015," said Comninos.

Foreign services

He is focused on the South African market and would like companies like MultiChoice to invest in satellite development.

"We interested in several markets, but we'll focus on the local market first. It would be ideal if a company that delivers direct to home TV services like MultiChoice invests in this."

He said that because a large percentage of these TV services are dependent on foreign satellites, companies who invested in launch capability could not only help foster national pride, but also save money in the longer term.

He did not rule out foreign funding for his ambitious project.

"Foreign funding is fine, but it will have to be approved first," said Comninos.

He insisted though, that developing local space launching capability could improve nation building, spur technological development and put SA in a position to drive economic growth from a launch programme in Africa.

"I'm an engineer and I remember seeing the first launch of the space shuttle and I thought: That’s what I want to do. And we can inspire the next generation of engineers."


His plan may sound ambitious, even though scientists at the CSIR's Satellite Application Centre seem to contradict him.

Earth Observation Manager Corne Eloff told News24 recently that it would take about 20 years to establish South Africa's launch programme, but they nevertheless have ambitions for local space launches.

"My dream is to say South Africa can create an (space) industry. We can create prestige on the African continent to stimulate our bright engineers or we'll lose them," said Eloff.

Comninos, though, remains bullish about the prospect for a South African launch programme, hinting that being a producer may hold long term benefits.

"It's better to build the iPhone than buy the iPhone."

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