Sansa considers SA space launches

2013-11-18 14:10
Russia's Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft carrying an international crew blasts off from the Kazakh Baikonur cosmodrome. (Kirill Kudryavtsev, AFP, file)

Russia's Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft carrying an international crew blasts off from the Kazakh Baikonur cosmodrome. (Kirill Kudryavtsev, AFP, file)

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Cape Town - Local launches of rockets bound for space may become a reality in South Africa if old facilities can be restored, the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) has said.

"Sansa is currently exploring the options for local launch in the country. These will explore the option to invest in restoring old launch facilities and/or the option of developing new sites for this purpose," Sansa CEO Dr Sandile Malinga told News24.

The agency has supported the latest micro satellite programme by the French South African Institute of Technology (F'SATI) located at CPUT campus in Bellville.

The institute recently built a micro satellite, dubbed ZACUBE-1 and intends to launch it from the Yasny Launch Base in Russia.


South Africa though experimented with a RSA-3 rocket based on the Israeli-designed Shavit in the 1980s though the project was later abandoned.


The rocket had no payload and in tests, it reached a height of 300km in 1990, after being launched from the Overberg test range.

Since the launch of Russia's Sputnik in 1957, only nine other countries have been able to launch rockets into space and the industry is an expensive business.

Malinga expressed caution as far as the date for local launches were concerned.

"It is not possible to establish a timeframe as findings will be presented to Government for a decision and funding."

India recently launched a Mars mission at a fraction of the cost of the US effort to study the planet's atmosphere, despite criticism that the country should focus on it social challenges instead.

Despite spending only 4.5 billion rupees ($73m) on the mission, the mission could be a catalyst for solving some of the challenges that the country faces, said the Isro.

"Space is one area right from the beginning that has been contributing to the development process of the country," said Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), K Radhakrishnan, adding that improved weather forecasting could help farmers and satellite networks would enhance communications.

Launch options

In SA, a local company has already been developing a launch vehicle capable of delivering satellite into orbit.

Marcom has been working on the vehicle since 2002, and is at advanced stage of development.

"We've designed the Cheetah 1 launch vehicle as a cryogenic liquid rocket engine which makes it almost impossible to weaponise, but we are registered with the non-proliferation office and they are aware of our capabilities and we provide reports and feedback as to our progress," Marcom Aeronautics & Space managing director Mark Comninos told News24 recently.

He said that the company is investigating launch options that may include a marine launch to access profitable geosynchronous orbits in addition to the old facilities.

"If you would like to tackle more lucrative orbits such as geosynchronous orbits, then it's three options there: You could possibly launch from an area north of Durban, but closer to Richards Bay," Comninos said.

Malinga said that Sansa was actively considering the feasibility of local launch programmes. There are also legal considerations that have to be taken into account related to rockets and liabilities associated with failure.

"Sansa is aware of   existing establishments in South Africa and will in due course investigate all possibilities regarding the feasibilities of them. As launching is part of a space portfolio this will certainly be investigated in due course."

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