South Africa's space programme - Past, present, future

06 Oct 2010

This article introduces and analyses South Africa’s space programme. This divides into three phases. First was the age of amateurs 1947-1962. Second, between 1963-1993, South Africa’s apartheid ancien regime started various missile projects. A secret military space launcher programme aimed at orbiting reconnaissance satellites. Under US Government pressure, this was cancelled before the first democratically-elected government came to power, and the facilities for manufacturing and testing solid propellant missiles destroyed. But South Africa still maintains a nucleus of space heritage infrastructure, including a coastal space launch range with telemetry capabilities, satellite testing and integration facilities, and modest aerospace and software industrial sectors. Third, South Africa became a democracy in 1994, and rolled out the legal and institutional infrastructure for a space programme. It is increasingly active in COPUOS and other international forums. South Africa has started to shape a new space policy, this time with public transparency. Since developing countries have severe resource constraints (aggravated by global recessions) the reviving future of South Africa’s space programme clearly needs to involve bilateral and multilateral partnerships. First fruits are that South Africa has negotiated with Algeria, Kenya, and Nigeria, the African Resource Management constellation, to pool imagery and other remote sensing data from all their microsats.